Several months ago, Craigslist bowed to pressure from state attorneys general and eliminated their “Adult Services” section. But AGs should probably put their celebrations on hold: a new study on the habits of sex workers reveals that prostitutes have long preferred Facebook over Craigslist for client recruitment.
Columbia University Professor Sudhir Venkatesh interviewed 290 sex workers for his study, 120 of whom he classified as “streetwalkers.” In Wired Magazine, Venkatesh says he was interested in researching how prostitution has evolved in recent years. He writes:
The economies of big cities have been reshaped by a demand for high-end entertainment, cuisine, and “wellness” goods. In the process, “dating,” “massage,” “escort,” and “dancing” have replaced hustling and streetwalking. A luxury brand has been born.
These changes have made sex for hire more expensive. But luxe pricing has in turn helped make prostitution, well… somewhat respectable. Whereas men once looked for a secretive tryst, now they seek a mistress with no strings attached, a “girlfriend experience,” and they are willing to pay top dollar for it.
Technology has played a fundamental role in this change. No self-respecting cosmopolitan man looking for an evening of companionship is going to lean out his car window and call out to a woman at a traffic light. The Internet and the rise of mobile phones have enabled some sex workers to professionalize their trade. Today they can control their image, set their prices, and sidestep some of the pimps, madams, and other intermediaries who once took a share of the revenue. As the trade has grown less risky and more lucrative, it has attracted some middle-class women seeking quick tax-free income.
Among Venkatesh’s more interesting findings:
♦ In 2003, 9% of sex workers’ regular clients were recruited from Craigslist. In 2008, Craigslist clients represented only 3%; and 25% came from Facebook.
♦ Sex workers overwhelmingly prefer BlackBerrys to other smartphones. They say that carrying a BlackBerry sends a signal to prospective clients that the sex worker is professional and disease-free.
♦ Sex workers say that if a client wants to take away a woman’s power to defend herself, he’ll steal her cell phone—so it’s important for sex workers to always carry a backup mobile phone.