Something Alternative: The exploitative nature of escort agencies

When I thought about trying escorting, the first thing I did was Google “escort agencies”. My period “working” for escort agencies is something I wouldn’t care to repeat. In my experience I find that escort agencies can prey on the ignorance of people, often young women, who are starting out in sex work.

As for most people, due to the stigma that sadly still remains and the “hush hush” nature of this industry doing sex work completely independently seems an overwhelming and perhaps frightening possibility for people-and the agencies seem to provide the possibility of some increased safety and the benefit of a person or people to go to if problems should arise (in the form of the agency owners). In theory this all sounds great and this is why I chose to start out this way. However, the reality is very different.

The agency I worked for for the longest period (I actually tried out three different ones) was I’m sure not the worst agency in the world, but there were significant problems. Firstly, they had no kind of “training” or advice programme for beginners, and all new escorts were pretty much thrown in at the deep end without any advice about safety precautions (other then checking in and out with the agency via text message), sexual health or how to deal with difficult clients.

I remember being sent to take part in a threesome with another escort during my first week and, whilst I didn’t find this particularly daunting, I worked the following week with a first timer who was absolutely terrified, clearly very much on the straight side of the sexuality spectrum and also on her period. The agency had a reputation for pressuring escorts into providing certain services in order to make more money. Many escorts were straight, like the woman I mentioned, but were “strongly advised” to go gay for pay. This resulted in some very peculiar bookings where I would have a lady ‘pretending’ to perform oral sex on me, much to the client’s confusion. Similarly, people were ‘strongly advised’ to offer kinky services such as domination, even if it really wasn’t their interest or forte. Further down the line, possibly six months into my time at the first agency, the owner started running BDSM training sessions which were hilariously amateurish but nonetheless, quite entertaining. I remember watching the most timid and softly spoken woman attempt to sound menacing and roleplay dominating another escort, through fits of giggles. Whilst this was amusing, far more worrying was the fact that not much was taught about safety for ladies offering submissive services – nothing on safe words or being cautious about new clients tying them up or blindfolding them. Money was clearly at the forefront of priorities, rather than the safety of the escorts. This was even despite the fact that the agencies were often ran by ex escorts, who you would think would have had empathy and understanding for our situations.

This obsession with raking in as much cash as possible was apparent in the way in which the owner would pack in booking after booking, conveyor belt style. I would finish a booking, only to receive several angry text messages from the owner complaining that the next client and escort were waiting to use the apartment. I would sometimes barely have time for a shower and a freshen up, let alone time to tidy properly. The more talkative clients sometimes posed a bit of a problem in this regard, as I would have to practically shove them out the door so that I wouldn’t get a stern telling off for going two minutes over the allotted time.

More serious than the unfortunate time management were the laughable “safety precautions”. Essentially, a text would be sent at the start and finish of every booking. However, there were times when I would be working a late shift and text out at 2am to be met with no response – I think the agency owners were already in bed which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence that they would really be able to do anything if an emergency arose. The agency really didn’t care about the kind of clients they were sending the escorts to see so absolutely no preventative measures were taken to filter out dodgy service users.

I had my only seriously negative experience over my whole escorting career during my first week at the escort agency. I was sent to a dismal hotel in Huddersfield. The building was dilapidated and the hotel room was even worse: mess strewn about the place and a stale smell of alcohol and cigarettes. The client was verbally abusive and complained and threw insults at me for the entirety of the booking. He was unclean and clearly on drugs of some kind and insisted on sharing with me his misogynistic views. He repeatedly informed me that “all whores would go to hell”. I was unfortunately a lot less assertive at that time and saw the booking through to the end. Also, the anxiety of letting down the agency owners made me struggle through the terrible experience. I told the owners about the guy and they said they wouldn’t send me to him again. I later found out that this person was a regular client and that they sent escorts to him on a weekly basis, despite reports of similar bad experiences, because he “paid well”. A week later they tried to send me to him again and I refused. Whilst they didn’t force me to go, I definitely felt I was not in their “good books” for a while afterwards. They would employ subtle punishment tactics on these occasions to illustrate their displeasure with an escort. The agency website was designed with a gallery of photographs of the escorts in rows. Those in favour would be displayed at the top of the website and would generally attract more business and those who had ticked off the owners would be moved down a rank or two. Post turning down another abusive booking I was shunted to the very bottom row. Escorts in favour would be given preferential treatment and more desirable bookings.

The bad client experience made me incredibly nervous for future bookings and I remember feeling very depressed about this experience. Luckily, there was nothing quite of this nature again, although I was sent to some other unsavoury types who were forceful, boundary pushing or made inappropriate jokes about “stealing me away”. Through the agency I met a client who wined and dined me and took me to a fancy hotel where we stayed in the penthouse suite, only for him to turn around and request unprotected sex to which I refused and informed the agency. Again, they continued to send other escorts to this client. They insisted they would “blacklist” bad clients, but it seemed to be someone would actually have to be physically harmed before the agency would dream of turning down any money.

A friend of mine who also worked for the agency was pressured into continuing with her shift after a condom broke during the booking. There was no sensitivity towards the anxiety and health implications of this situation, and again money was prioritised over well-being. We never had any advice to use sexual health services and were never educated on the importance of getting tested regularly. I saw several escorts engage in potentially risky behaviours from a health point of view.

In addition to abusive and boundary pushing clients, I experienced a horrible incident myself where I was inappropriately touched at a photo shoot which was conducted by one of the escort owners. We were doing a “submissive” shoot at his studio, with me in chains and restraints, and were the only people on the premises. It was a frightening and unpleasant experience and was what precipitated me leaving this particular agency soon afterwards. A similar incident also happened to my friend. The fact that the agency was able to operate due to the loophole of saying we escorts were self-employed (as employing escorts would constitute running a brothel, which is illegal) also meant they were conveniently absolved of any responsibility for our safety. Unlike in other jobs, there was no real place to turn if things went wrong as we essentially had no workers rights, not technically being employed.

The other agencies I tried were not much better and were in other aspects worse. I worked for one agency where we would be fined £50 for being late by a few minutes. This, on top of the agency £50 commission per hour was enough to make working pretty much pointless, as I travelled to work by train and a lot of the appointments were very short notice, there were plenty of times I might not be bang on time. Despite clients being totally fine with me being slightly late, the agency ruthlessly applied this fining system clearly as another way to make money out of us.

As well as my own experiences, I heard plenty of horror stories from agency clients or other escorts about their experiences at other agencies. There was an agency that had a reputation as a “party “ agency where escorts would be sent in the middle of the night to long bookings and where they would be expected to drink a lot of alcohol and partake in taking class A drugs all night. A client told me he saw a woman for a booking who was so exhausted, having just worked a night shift for this agency, that she fell asleep. Luckily he was an honest person, but I heard stories about escorts being robbed and taken advantage of in these kinds of situations. Despite this, agencies I worked for would actively try to dissuade people from working independently, insisting that it was safer to stay with the agency. A friend of mine was told that she simply wouldn’t “cope” by herself and that bad things would happen to her. Looking back, this was an incredibly manipulative tactic used to ensure they could keep making money out of us.

Now working as an independent escort and sex worker, doing webcamming and occasional porn shoots, I am much happier and safer. If I encounter a potential client who is less than polite over messages, I refuse to see them. I only offer services that I actually enjoy doing and I don’t force myself to do things for extra money. I am in control of my own business and it feels really good. I check in with friends I trust rather than the agency, and I know that they actually have my back and would not hesitate to call the police should an emergency arrive (unlike the agency). I charge what I want and don’t have to pay any fees or commission to someone who really doesn’t provide much in the way of support. I have encountered much nicer clients, due to the freedom to be picky, and I can choose not to see someone again if we don’t get along without someone breathing down my neck and making me feel guilty for turning down business. There is no more last minute running around to make last minute appointments or having to rush clients out of the door. I would strongly advise anyone who is looking at getting into sex work to avoid agencies at all costs.

I understand that there are issues that might make it difficult for some people to work independently; such as the issue of having a space to work from. However, I would definitely advise working outcalls (where an escort travels to meet a client), and sharing working spaces with other workers over working for an agency. There is a fantastic escort support website called SAAFE which has very informative forums on these issues. Working as an independent sex worker is safer, more lucrative and an empowering experience.

Words: Rosie K.