There’s No Such Thing As A ‘Safe’ Escort Ad
December 16, 2015 | Kristina Dolgin
As much as sex workers don’t like to hear it, this is real. Time and again in legal workshops and consultations sex workers ask me for the magic words they can use in their advertisements that will keep them safe from arrest. To their disbelief, and sometimes resentment, I respond that magic words don’t exist and that there is no such thing as a “safe” escort ad.
I completely understand why sex workers ask this. Law enforcement’s interactions with sex workers result in their arrest, imprisonment, and all the collateral consequences of criminal charges like loss of jobs or child custody, public outing, and major immigration issues. Not only do sex workers experience the harms of the prison industrial complex due to police and courts, but also they are extremely likely to be the victims of violence and sexual abuse by cops.
The purpose of debunking these myths is to help build towards sex worker’s safety. The less energy sex workers put towards false expectations of protection, the more energy and creativity can be put towards actions that do actually lessen risk.
The legal definition of prostitution & solicitation
Let’s first get on the same page with some definitions. Prostitution is criminalized in all 50 U.S. states, including those counties in Nevada in which a very strict form of legalization exists. Each state defines the criminal act in their statutory code somewhat differently, adding their own unique twist on punishment, but they are all essentially the same.
Prostitution, simply put, means to engage in sex or a lewd act in exchange for money, goods, services, drugs, or anything of value.
Solicitation of prostitution is offering or agreeing to engage in prostitution. A sex worker can be arrested and prosecuted even if they did not initiate the agreement.
How arrests of indoor workers go down:
Generally speaking, indoor workers who find their clients via the Internet are targeted by law enforcement through their ads. Cops posing as clients respond to an ad, asking to meet in person for a session. In many cases, the sex worker’s ad and subsequent phone calls, texts or emails exchanged with an undercover officer could be enough evidence to make an arrest for solicitation (cops only need a 50% likelihood that criminal activity is taking place.) Arrests (and officer misconduct) usually occur when an undercover officer meets a sex worker for a session.
Arrest patterns vary by city, county, and state. With the rise of mainstream anti-human trafficking hysteria law enforcement has put more energy and resources into targeting ads in which workers appears young and appear to be immigrants (i.e. major racial profiling.) Any ad may be targeted by law enforcement anywhere at any time.
Common things sex workers do that they think creates a protective shield:
Listing payment in roses:
This tactic doesn’t work for a couple of reasons. The first is that the definition of prostitution is not limited to the exchange of sexual services for cash. Roses count as an item of value. Secondly, any cop, judge, and jury can deduce that a sex worker does not actually expect to be paid in roses. Who would?
Including a disclaimer “Payment is for my time only not for sex” or some variation:
Law enforcement’s response to this is simply “Yeah, right.” Not only does a statement like this signal that sex is likely to happen (why else would someone write that?), but also makes it impossible for a sex worker to try to claim to a prosecutor later that they didn’t know what they were doing was illegal.
Calling payment a “donation:”
The idea behind this one is to diminish the reality of the contractual relationship that is occurring between sex worker and client. Regardless of the actual language used, if it acts, smells, and looks like a payment cops and prosecutors are going to ignore the donative language and call it a payment.
Categorizing themselves as massage or Tantric providers or putting a therapeutic spin on their services:
Some sex workers use this language as part of a branding strategy and as descriptors of the specific services they provide in session. Others use this language to distance themselves from stereotypes of prostitution, hoping to reduce their chances of becoming targets for cops perusing advertising websites. Regardless of the actual language of your individual ad, a cop can deduce that what you’re offering could likely be deemed prostitution for a number of reasons: the ad is hosted on an advertising site that is known for prostitution, text is accompanied by nude or otherwise revealing photos
Using acronyms or slang instead of explicit sexual language:
Sex workers can be charged and prosecuted with prostitution or solicitation, even if no explicitly sexual language was used. Acronyms and seemingly-innocent code words can be just as indicative of illegal activity as their more obvious ancillaries. To prove the state’s case against a sex worker at trial, a prosecutor would simply put a vice cop on the witness stand to explain to a daft jury “BBBJ stands for bareback blow job,” or “greek is common nomenclature for anal,” or “party is slang for sex.”
Those that advocate for harm reduction cannot teach abstinence. The same issues promoting abstinence as the only safe sex in sex education holds true here. Sex workers will do what they have to do to make ends meet, which means that instructing sex workers to not post ads at all to lessen harm from police is not only ignorant but also unsafe. Sex workers can implement safety tactics to reduce risk of harm, but the myths listed above won’t work to protect against arrest.