***Names in the article and video have been changed to protect subject’s identities.
State and federal laws prohibit the exchange of sex for money, but in the adult entertainment industry those called escorts walk a fine line between legality and criminal activity.
Regularly included under the umbrella of prostitution, escorts are paid for their companionship and time rather than the sexual acts.
Escorting is not technically illegal as long as the service provided does not include sex. Hence the distinction between charging for time spent together and not the acts.
26-year-old escort Faith uses the umbrella term but makes the distinction of prostitution with what she called survival sex, having sex out of extreme need for money or even food or shelter.
Faith has been working as an escort for two years.
“It’s more like a career,” said Faith. “You’re trying to build a business, a label, a brand based on your personality, the clients you accept, what you do, the way you present yourself, the photos you take, your website. All of these things that end up showing whether or not you’re obviously having survival sex or if this is what you’re doing as a profession.”
Faith works with the full support of her boyfriend Andrew, whom she is in a polyamorous relationship with. She is also a mother.
“I have no qualms about what I do. I’m very proud of it,” said Faith. “It affords me a lot of things for my 5-year-old that I could not if I didn’t do this, there’s no way.”
Though she is happy with her job she no longer speaks with her family.
“My younger sister told our parents what I do,” said Faith. “They told me I was a bad mom who was endangering the welfare of my minor child and that I should let my daughter be with them because I was such a bad mom.”
Faith said she finds the hypocrisy and stigma surrounding her work appalling.
“That I am sitting here 24 hours waiting for you to call and I am ready for you because I want you to come and show me things that I have never seen before. Like no, sorry I have to go grocery shopping, I don’t have time for your ass,” said Faith.
“America is one of the largest consumers of the sex industry and yet, we condemn it so intensely and so profoundly,” said Faith. “I think it was George Carlin that said, ‘Sex is legal. Selling is legal. Why is selling sex illegal?’”
Other than financially, Faith said that her work has helped her personally.
“It’s helped my confidence,” said Faith. “It’s in my ability to communicate my needs and expectations from other people, it’s helped my ability to set, and maintain, appropriate boundaries. It’s helped me immensely, immensely. I don’t regret anything.”
One of the reasons Faith likes working as an escort is making connections with people.
“There is one story that I’ll never forget,” said Faith. “It was a guy who was probably 450 to 500 pounds. Logistically I was like, alright. We’re going to have a good time. Afterward he asked me, ‘Do you know why I was able to finish? Because I usually don’t.’ and I asked why and he said, ‘Because I genuinely felt like you wanted to be here.’”
“It just makes me feel good to make somebody else feel good. I like what I’m doing and I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with it,” said Faith.
Z, 45, and her boyfriend Doug, 53, are swingers and have been together for eight years. A few years ago Z, who normally does accounting and payroll work, was on unemployment.
“It started really as a joke,” said Z. “I was on unemployment and that was coming to an end. He said to me ‘You know like those checks are going to stop in a month or two?’ and I was like ‘Oh yeah I guess I should look for a job. Maybe I’ll just be an escort.’”
Z said they laughed and walked away after the exchange and Doug asked her two weeks later about it.
“And I said ‘Would you be okay with that?’”, said Z. “And he’s like ‘Well I’m okay with all the rest, we’ve been swinging, why wouldn’t I be okay with that?’”
Z has been working as an escort now for six years and works primarily in eastern Detroit.
“After I started doing this I actually did go back to work for about a year and a half,” said Z. “I was doing this very part time and I was working full time and I really just hated being in a cubicle again.”
Doug is supportive of Z’s job, something she said he wanted to hear all about when she first started.
“The stories are all the same,” said Doug. “At one point I just said, this is repetition. It’s amazing how it doesn’t really vary. The guy comes in, they screw, she gets paid, they talk for a little bit, he leaves. Wow. That’s it. What am I going to get jealous about?”
Doug believes more people should take advantage of the services escorts offer.
“If people were a little bit more open minded when the guy said wow she looks cute and the woman goes, well go fuck her, get it out of your system and then come back to me type of thing, think about all the divorces that could be saved,” said Doug.
Wayne State University student and Detroit resident Eliza Fitzgerald has been working as an escort less than two years. The 22-year-old and has been using the job as a way to pay off school.
It is currently Eliza’s only source of income following her ex-boyfriend, whom she had worked with, revealing her as a sex worker.
“I had to quit that job. He was abusive and I was fearful of him,” said Eliza. “So all of a sudden I didn’t have a job except for sex work and I really had to lean on that. It was really difficult because I still hadn’t gotten the hang of the industry. You’d try to work safely but when the rent’s due you might make some decisions that weren’t as safe.”
Eliza’s rates for the Detroit area start at $350.
“It’s kind of feast or famine. You might make your entire rent in one or two days, and so the other 28 to 29 days of the month it can be really scary,” said Eliza.
Eliza used to use Backpage, a classified advertising website that has since been taken down after coming under fire that their adult services section was being used for prostitution and human trafficking, including minors.
Just before Christmas Eliza arrived at an appointment and discovered the man had brought a gun.
“They didn’t hold the gun to me or anything, but they made it very clear that it was in their pants,” said Eliza. “They were very aggressive. I kept telling them to stop biting me and I couldn’t really raise my voice as much as I wanted to. I just really wanted to kick them out of the room, but I didn’t feel like I could. It was kind of like a coercive situation. And that was kind of a turning point for me when I realized I need to work differently.”
Escorts use a reference system, a vetting service for people they meet for appointments. When a client contacts an escort looking to make an appointment the escort then asks for their references. If the client has used an escort before they provide the names of other escorts they have seen and the escort will then contact the previous escort and make sure they are a legitimate provider and that the client is safe to see. If they are a first-time client each escort has system that varies. The escort may ask for personal contacts, social media information, or meet the client publicly (and at the client’s expense).
“If I get a bad gut feeling about somebody, I don’t see them,” said Z. “It’s not worth it for me to go to jail and to spend thousands of dollars, then to lose $200. I don’t care.”
As a way of protection, escorts also have online websites where they share information about clients they blacklisted to warn other escorts from providing for them or letting them decide if they want to see that person. Clients may be blacklisted for, of course violence, but also for shorting providers on their fees or wasting the escort’s time with missed appointments.
Eliza believes destigmatizing escorts is important and encourages escorts who can be out to “be out.”
“Some of the stigmas people have is that we’re all trafficked,” said Eliza. “There’s also a lot of stigma that we have drugs. Like I have clients sometimes ask me if I have drugs. Not just weed, but like cocaine and things I didn’t even know were drugs.”
Danielle has over started in the adult entertainment industry 20 years ago. She began as a dancer at 24 years old as a way to pay her way through her biotechnology degree at Michigan State University and is now a traveling courtesan.
As a dancer, Danielle said she would have men come to the club and ask her out to dinner.
“I would say yes, but if you want to take me out to dinner on a Friday night you have to pay me whatever I would make that night at the club,” said Danielle. “So it was that kind of transaction. It wasn’t like a previously thought out plan, it was like oh okay, yeah sure take me out but I still have next semester and book to pay for so if you give me $500 we can have dinner.”
Danielle said she liked working in a lab but she loved dancing and traveling and being an escort allowed her to do that.
“If I was contracted to do a project in a lab I would have to be there all the time,” said Danielle. “It’s not like a 9 to 5 job. If your bacteria is going to mutate you have to be there to see it happen. The uncertainty of having work was really scary. Where of course traveling and dancing and being an escort was job security.”
Danielle tours for about two to three days a week, three weeks out of the month.
“If I’m on tour in a certain city I’ll put up ads a month ahead of time,” said Danielle. “I book in advance; I get deposits and then I go. I sometimes schedule my tours intentionally around events that I would enjoy.”
Danielle’s rates normally range from $500 for one hour to $2,500 for eight hours. When she is touring exclusively her charges $3,000 for 12 hours to $15,000 for the week in addition to travel expenses.
“I always think that’s interesting when they’re (the client) like hey do you mind flying with this airline because I have points here,” said Danielle. “Ironically it’s usually Delta.”
“A lot of escorts know a lot about travel,” said Danielle. “Be a member of every hotel chain and every travel discount thing you can be a part of because it all works together. AAA discount saves me a ton on hotel and travel. And restaurants, people don’t always know that.”
Danielle is a feminist but feels frustrated that as a sex worker she’s not allowed her own agency.
“They want women to look pretty and be smart and have jobs, but they don’t want to acknowledge that I would want to have sex or want to take my clothes off,” said Danielle. “They don’t want to admit that that’s my choice. And on the other side of it, the far left feminist groups are more constantly thinking that I need rescuing and that I’m a victim. I’m not sure what they think I’m a victim of. It makes it very difficult to be a strong independent woman who wants to be a leader when both sides are telling me that I’m a victim and I need rescuing or that I’m completely brainwashed by the patriarchy.”
“Stigma is alive and it is real,” said Faith. “If one person destigmatizes sex work because of this I would be very happy.”