By SARAH VEENSTRA
It’s one word. One unclean word. It refers to a female who is considered a stain on society. If the word prostitute came to mind, the stigma is alive and well.
While the word “prostitute” is still used today, and more vulgar terms have come and gone, there is another word that has come to be more common: escort. It’s a seemingly less abrasive word that society deems more acceptable, perhaps because it suggests an upscale service.
But who’s being judged? Is it the women, as the Googled definition references females as the “typical” persons who engage in the “activity.” Or does society judge the men who use the “service.”
In the 21st century people think of the word “escort” and think of companionship, something society can relate to and, therefore, find more acceptable.
In the last few years, websites that look like online dating websites have emerged, changing the common practices of sex work.
People create a profile similar to an online dating site where they upload a picture and state their age, gender and who they are seeking. Some sites even have an area where people can set asking prices for specific forms of sexual favours.
An escort who was involved in the industry for several years, agreed to talk about some of his experiences. His name has been changed to protect his identity.
“A friend of mine had mentioned loosely to me what she was doing,” said Brad Marley, an online escort. “She didn’t mention the job specifics or go into it too thoroughly but she said she was making some easy money and meeting some new people.”
Marley, who is an escort based out of Toronto, created his first online profile on Name Your Price in 2012. Despite Marley’s friendship with the female escort being new, her openness allowed him to see the large sums of money she made weekly.
“At first I was obviously extremely skeptical and judgmental but I couldn’t argue with the money,” Marley said. “There were things attached to the money. I was in some financial debt, I had – I don’t want to say dreams but goals of travelling and going to school. There were things I wanted that I couldn’t have bought with the money I was making as a waiter at the time.”
Marley spent the weeks prior to creating his profile preparing himself. He admitted he hoped he would meet someone who preferred an arrangement based more on companionship than sex.
“The concerns were really more, could I go through with it, could I live with it,” Marley said. “Had I been a girl, my concerns would have possibly switched more to violence. There’s always that fear whether you’re male or female. But I wouldn’t say that violence was the biggest concern of mine.”
After nearly three weeks of contemplation and advice from his now close friend and “mentor,” Marley logged on, checked the box for seeking men and uploaded his photo.
“Her advice was the same advice as you’d give to somebody who’s new to any online dating world,” said Marley. “The obvious ones: be safe, condom-wise, and make sure someone knows where and when you’re going, have a thorough conversation before going, not a two-minute email or text conversation, and show up somewhere you’ve never been before. But also just some friendly, wise words of ‘have a few drinks first.’”
As Marley navigated the online trade he came up with only one underlying commonality between all of his experiences: there wasn’t one.
“Some people were pretty upfront about what they were looking for and what they were willing to pay for it,” Marley said. “I would be offered $5,000 for just a meeting, that was the most. We would meet on the Friday night for whatever we had arranged at a hotel and in addition, I would have the room for the rest of the weekend for myself. The prices went down as low as $500 for just dinner. Most often, there was bartering that took place over the price. Even though we’d be number pitching, we wouldn’t talk about what would go on in fear of privacy.”
The privacy to which Marley is referring to, is in terms of law enforcement. While prostitution is a legal form of work, the laws surrounding the trade make it nearly impossible to engage in the activity.
The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act that was put in place in 2014 by Justice Minister Peter MacKay, criminalizes making money on the sale of sex, buying sex or third party advertising of the sex trade or workers.
While the laws put in effect on Dec. 6, 2014 in reference to the act were designed to aid sex workers in safely and effectively removing themselves from the trade, those in the profession were outraged, stating that the laws pushed the trade further underground, thus making it more unsafe.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne voiced her own objection to the act.
“I am not an expert, and I am not a lawyer,” Wynne’s statement read. “But as premier of this province, I am concerned that this legislation (now the law of the land) will not make sex workers safer.”
“There is a market for sex work,” said Marley. “This is an industry that has existed I would say, at the very least, since the dawn of the monetary system and you can’t seem to shut it down so, I think it best that the government learn how to deal with the industry and do their best to keep it regulated and keep it safe for workers. The issue with pushing it underground is the lack of regulation.”
While Marley insists he’s never personally experienced or witnessed any violence in the industry, he recognizes that it does exist.
“Being a male is one thing, but being a female and being in dark rooms and unknown locations, the safety factor is decreased exponentially,” Marley said. “My friend that’s in the trade has also been extremely safe and taken the time to cross her t’s and dot her I’s.”
Marley’s real fear lies with the lack of knowledge associated with meeting the men he met online.
“It was different every time,” he said. “I would meet them and think, ‘Wow, you posted a photo from 20 years ago,’ or ‘You’ve gained 100 lbs. since you took this photo,’ or this guy isn’t actually that bad. But you don’t know what these people are doing, where they’ve been and there’s still things that you can get when you’re being cautious.”
The pressure to go sexually further was an ongoing battle, despite boundaries being set from the onset. Marley’s tactic to offset the feeling of obligation was to collect the money upfront.
“A lot of men weren’t extremely attractive and I think that society makes them feel as though this is their last option,” said Marley. “Others were extremely busy and just enjoy the company of a younger companion. I personally think, in some cases, it’s a power thing. To purchase something makes it yours, to use and dispose of it at your leisure.”
The position of power is well known, and is so common that Hollywood has depicted it in Pretty Woman with Richard Gere’s need to elicit control and power and even in HBO’s Sex and the City, where the protagonist questions the life of an escort after a one-night stand, puts $1,000 on the nightstand and leaves.
“Money is power, sex is power, therefore, getting money for sex is simply an exchange of power,” said Samantha (played by Kim Cattrall) in the episode.
Marley equates the stigma surrounding the idea of trading money for sex, to perceptions of gender orientation or various other human characteristics, perceptions that as a gay man he’s regularly exposed to.
“There’s a range of perceptions, and there’s a range of where someone will stand on an issue,” Marley said. “I can’t tell them not to think the way they do, but at the same time, I think there’s misinformation. A wealth of misinformation. There’s a lack of education on the subject. For instance, the association with the street corner, a drug addict, trying to make a few dollars to get her next fix. So, I wouldn’t say anything to these people except for do your research because just as there’s a range of perception, there’s a range in the trade.”
One year ago, at the age of 24, Marley deleted his profile. Currently enrolled in a public relations program at a Toronto university, his debts are paid. He insists there are no regrets.
“There were times where I had a fleeting moment’s thought of ‘Uh oh, this could end badly,” Marley said. “But it was often me misreading the situation and being paranoid. More often than not, these were respectable men, just like me, simply attempting to fill their time or unmet need.”