Select Papers & Presentations

Criminalizing Collaboration: Socialization, Safety, and Social  Networks among U.S. Escorts

Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Alex Nelson, Antoinette Izzo

Annual Meeting of Law and Society Association

June 2, 2019, Washington, D.C.

Abstract:

Independent escorts often rely on social networks within the sex industry to make their work safer, less stressful, and more productive. In this paper, we examine how independent online escorts utilize peer networks to learn best practices and improve the safety and profitability of their businesses. Drawing from interviews, survey data, escort websites, and social media, we discuss how women working as independent online escorts rely on one another and third-party platforms to manage their businesses. We find that escorts share information to help screen clients and to avoid violent patrons, time-wasters, and undercover law enforcement. Escorts also utilize web forums and social media to socialize one another into the business, share best practices, and exchange stories about their experiences without stigmatization. Today, FOSTA-SESTA conflates independent sex workers operating by choice with actual trafficking victims and cracks down on online interactions related to commercial sex. In doing so, the law vastly increases the risks associated with maintaining these online information exchange networks by making website owners, and sometimes the independent workers themselves, liable for content that promotes prostitution. This significantly heightens the threat to sex workers generally, and independent online escorts specifically, by criminalizing their collaboration and information exchange. The result of this "criminalized online association" is that sex workers are at greater risk due to diminished online communities that help promote safety, socialize escorts, and support their mental health while working in a stigmatized and marginalized profession.

 

Re-reading FOSTA/SESTA: Online Escorts' Perceptions of Risk and Strategies for Safety

Alex Nelson, Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Antoinette Izzo

Annual Meeting of Law and Society Association 

May 30, 2019, Washington, D.C.

Abstract:

Sex trafficking stories capture the danger, exploitation, and abuse in some parts of the global sex industry. They focus on a dark underbelly where girls and women are objectified and traded for sex and profits, against their will and without agency. Anti-trafficking advocates leverage these narratives to rail against all forms of commercial sex, ostensibly to protect women. In doing so, they conflate the multilayered and complex realities of sex work in the growing global commercial sex industry. Dangerously, this creates an inhospitable climate for workers who sell sexual services by choice and occupation and reduces their stories to propaganda and false consciousness. The best example of this is the 2018 FOSTA/SESTA legislation passed in the United States which criminalizes internet interactions related to 'prostitution'.

In this paper, we re-read FOSTA/SESTA from the perspective of erotic entrepreneurs: women who have their own websites and work as independent online escorts. Drawing upon survey data, interviews, and online ethnography, we document escorts' perceptions of danger and risk, as well as their strategies to stay safe. Doing so provides a critical re-reading of FOSTA/SESTA and a basis to advocate for legislation that better addresses the problems sex workers face across the commercial sex industry.

 

 

Nelson, A., Hausbeck Korgan, K., Izzo, A., & Bessen, S. (2019). Client desires and the Price of Seduction: Exploring the Relationship Between Independent Escorts’ Marketing and Rates. The Journal of Sex Research. DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2019.1606885.

Abstract:

This paper explores website content and differences in advertised rates among a sample of 839 independent female online escorts operating their own websites in major metropolitan areas in the United States. Statistical analyses of escorts’ rates indicate pricing variation across cities in which escorts advertise; the number of cities and websites they advertise on; whether they travel to areas beyond their primary locality to meet clients; their age and stated racial/ethnic/sexual identity; the internet platforms they advertise on; and how they present themselves and their services on their webpages. These relationships between business strategies of independent escorts and their published rates shed light on client preferences and market demand. Our findings provide important new insights into independent online escorts’ business strategies and financial tactics, and identify factors impacting perceived market value for escort services. This research supports emerging literature indicating that clients of independent online escorts will pay more for particular provider characteristics, dispositions, and services, and they most highly value erotic services that are seductive and mirror the qualities of non-remunerative sexual exchange, often described as the “girlfriend experience.”

 

What Clients Want and What Providers Need: Online Escort Marketing and Valuations of Market Niches in the U.S.,

Alex Nelson and Kate Hausbeck Korgan, with Sarah Bessen

Annual Meeting of Law and Society Association

June 9, 2018, Toronto, Canada

Abstract:

Online sex work, and the dance of supply and demand between clients and providers, constitutes a unique neoliberal marketplace exchange. We argue that workers in this market niche are best understood in a business framework, with online sexual services providers characterized as individual erotic entrepreneurs. In this paper, we ask: How do providers from major metropolitan areas in the United States value their labor, and what may account for their valuation? Using both quantitative and qualitative data from our eleven-city national database of online escort websites, surveys, and interview data, we describe the relative valuation of different market niches within the US online escorting market in the form of escorts' posted rates. By describing the inter- and intra-metropolitan market variation in rates among the eleven regions in our dataset, we assess how escorts' presentations of self-interact with marketing decisions regarding where and how much one advertises to impact escorts' rates. We theorize that these variations reveal important insights about the calculations that clients make when selecting a provider. This paper reveals the strengths and limitations of utilizing rates data as an indicator of online escort earnings and sheds light on the processes by which escorts set and adjust their posted rates, which contributes to our understanding of broader issues regarding sex work policy and regulations.

 

Displacing Client Anonymity: Power, Politics, Safety and the Dynamics of Vetting Practices Among Independent Online Escorts

Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Alex Nelson, with Antoinette Izzo, Sarah Besson, Susan Lopez-Embury

Displacing Sex for Sale conference by COST Action ProsPol

March 29, 2017, Copenhagen

                                                            

Abstract:

From a purely rational economic logic, we might expect escorts to accept dates from any client willing to pay for the allotted time. After all, we usually think of the adult industry consumer, not the provider of a sexual service, as being in the powerful position of the selective party in the transaction. But in the global online economy, new technologies have altered the power, politics and dynamics of sexual exchange. Streamlined, online client and provider vetting processes increasingly displace escort agencies as the standard mechanism for enhancing provider safety in the sexual marketplace. For independent, online escorts, the internet has increased the efficiency of screening and vetting, allowing providers to design and employ their own strategies for creating a safe and empowering work environment.

Clients, especially hobbyists, employ online services like TER (The Erotic Review) and other internet-based communities to exchange information about, and reviews of, escorts. While there isn’t a direct equivalent for escorts to swap stories and rate clients, independent online escorts often restrict the clients they will see through their personal websites, and they routinely subject prospective clients to a rigorous vetting process. This includes verifying a prospective client’s identity and place of employment, references from other providers he has hired, and verified reviews from online pay-for-service screening sites, all in addition to their nuanced subjective evaluation of the prospective client’s communications throughout the booking process. In this paper, we employ survey, website, and interview data from independent online escorts who work in the US (and often elsewhere, too) to assess new screening mechanisms and vetting practices. In doing so, we document the shifting valences of power, politics, and risk-avoidance among clients and providers in the online marketplace. This paper concludes with an analysis of the ironic displacement of client anonymity on the internet.

The Erotic Entrepreneurs Project: Key Findings and The Challenges & Opportunities of Online Reviews 

Kate Hausbeck Korgan & Alex Nelson

Desiree Alliance Conference

July 10 - 15, 2016, New Orleans

Abstract:

The rapid expansion of WiFi and the proliferation of affordable personal technology (computers, cell phones, digital cameras, etc.) have transformed both the marketplace itself, and human interactions around the buying and selling of every type of product and service. E-commerce has become a dominant global marketplace for exchange, and new types of relationships are emerging in this new space. One clear example of this is online reviews where clients, customers, and shoppers post personal -- -sometimes authentic, sometimes fake-- - reviews of online retailers and service providers. This new relationship between buyers and sellers is often antagonistic: good reviews may be helpful, but bad reviews can be terribly devastating for providers and businesses. This has empowered buyers, but it is also is a source of fear and loathing for many sellers across online industries. While this “Yelp” dynamic applies to all online businesses, it is even more important to various types of sexual service providers, where the exchange may be more intimate, the details more personal, and the reviewers perhaps more ruthless. This presentation will share findings generated thus far from our erotic entrepreneurs study in which we study independent online escorts' business strategies and practices, and raise questions for discussion about how online sexual commerce offers new challenges and opportunities for sex workers.

Sex in the Gig Economy: The Tyranny & Opportunity of Online Platforms for Independent Escorts

Kate Hausbeck Korgan & Alex Nelson

SASE (Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics): Moral Economies, Economic Moralities

June 24-26, 2016, UC Berkeley

Abstract:

Invocations of the “gig” or sharing economy generally refer to new market arrangements between exchanging parties, such as ride and home sharing, and new forms of independent, flexible work. Less studied, but a massive and flourishing niche in this neoliberal, high-tech economy is the global adult industry. This paper will make a case for the analysis of sex in the gig economy by analyzing one dominant sub-section of online markets and the independent contractors who labor therein, namely independent online companions, courtesans, and escorts. Using a multi-method approach to study the business strategies and commercial practices of these online escorts, we map the relationships between independent, online female escorts and the online platforms through which they construct their identities, build their businesses, and market their services.

 

In a marked change from 20th-century commercial sex, in the United States today street prostitutes constitute a small minority of sex workers, and online escorts operating either independently or in association with agencies constitute the main suppliers of direct inter-personal sexual commerce outside of exotic dance. Contemporary American escorts, whether working independently or with an agency, recruit clients almost exclusively through the internet. Although most escort agencies and independent escorts operate their own webpages, many of which may be found through Google, our research indicates that a vast majority of web traffic for escorts comes through a small number of web-based platforms. The most popular of these is backpage.com, where inexpensive ads can be placed much like Craigslist. Nearly as popular is The Erotic Review (TER), a site where paid member consumers known as “hobbyists” compile information on escorts and post reviews of their experiences with them. Escorts can also advertise themselves and their services via TER. The other major platforms for escort marketing are Eros.com, which offers more premium looking advertisements than Backpage.com but lacks reviews, and Preffered411.com (P411), which provides verification services for clients and provider members as well as offering premium profile pages like those of Eros.com. For each of these four types of escort web platforms, there are several less popular competitors, but none offer qualitatively different services.

We explore the role of these four web platforms in the escort industry by considering independent online escorts’ marketing decisions through the lens of entrepreneurship.  The reason for doing so is that these independent, online escorts, courtesans, and companions are erotic entrepreneurs ---- businesswomen who work independently, flexibly, online, and strategically to maximize their profits and minimize drawbacks of their work. Drawing upon content analyses of these platforms, as well as survey and interview data collected from independent online escorts who utilize these various sites, we illustrate how each platform, as well as escorts’ own individual websites, enable different approaches to advertising and as a result, influence the way the escorts’ work, the market position of their clients, and the relationship between the two.

 

With the exception of TER, independent escorts with their own professional websites are able to take advantage of the benefits of each of these different platforms without being affected by their limitations. For example, Backpage.com is a platform easily accessible for creating ads that require minimal investment. Professional photographs are not expected, and it's easy to build an ad; this, therefore, offers an opportunity for escorts to test a variety of marketing strategies with a minimal investment of time and money. Eros.com offers a more standardized format which can be made to look professional with a single professional photograph. It may help providers to reach more lucrative niches than with Backpage.com but still at a minimized financial and time investment. P411 mirrors Eros.com in the appearance of the profiles providers can post there but they provide an added service of client verification which means that those who create and maintain P411 profiles increase their chances of receiving traffic from more avid hobbyists who go to the trouble of establishing verification accounts. TER, on the other hand, is unique in relation to these other services in that its profiles are often times not even created by the provider but rather by former clients, which limits the provider’s control over the information presented there such as age, body measurements and most importantly, reviews.

Although all of these platforms frequently link to one another, compounding visibility for those who choose to utilize all of them, TER is exceptional in that they ban escorts who discourage clients from posting on review sites. Given TER’s partial reliance on memberships for revenue, and that the principle attraction of membership is the ability to read and write escort reviews, their policy is a strategic financial one. The problem as some escorts see it is that reviews place the intimate details of client-provider interactions into near public view. Presently this places escorts who would prefer not to be reviewed in a particularly difficult predicament because not only does actively opposing client reviews diminish their business when they have to turn down reviewer clients, TER’s dominance as the platform of choice for most clients results in a significant loss of traffic to their independent site. In short, platforms and platform policies matter.

 

This paper presents an assessment of the tyrannies and opportunities associated with different platforms for escorts, and ideas for better platforms that would meet their market-driven needs for visibility, strategic marketing, discretion, and safety. These are key demands for many sectors in the gig economy, and the escort market niche is no different in this regard. Where independent companions and escorts do differ from many other independent contractors in the adult gig economy is in the autonomy they enjoy compared to exotic dancers, brothel workers, and many other independent contractors who nonetheless lack full independence. Further, we consider the ways this autonomy fundamentally transforms the provider-client relationship. With the explosive expansion of online markets --especially sexual markets-- in the sharing and gig economies, the adult sector becomes an important site for analysis of platforms and the techno-social context that shapes and influences these intimate exchanges.

Liminal Sex & Markets: The Business Practices of Independent Online Escorts

Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Alex Nelson, and Antoinette Izzo

SASE (Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics): Moral Economies, Economic Moralities

June 24-26, 2016, UC Berkeley

 

Abstract:

In the neoliberal global arena of endless market niches and hyper-individualization, examples of sexual boundary crossers, or consumers engaged in acts and displays indicative of transgressive behaviors and marginal identities, are plentiful. Whether the boundary crossing spans sexual identity positions and fluid sexuality, or participation in the multitude of pleasures and vices sold across the adult industry, this metaphor implies an instantaneous shift from one place, space or identity, to another. There is much, however, that takes place in the process of boundary crossing, from legal to illegal or moral to immoral for example, where one is neither fully aligned with one side of the boundary, nor fully immersed in the other. It is in this realm of liminal spaces, of between and betwixt, that uncertainty and promise flourish. This paper examines these liminal spaces and subjects in the context of the sexual marketplace of erotic labor.

 

In the last 15 years, technology, the internet, and globalization have together generated a vast online marketplace for human social interaction. Further, one particularly expansive segment of the marketplace for social interaction on the world wide web is driven by individuals interested in sexually-oriented exchange --- of ideas, images, online interactions, and in-person services. The two most common forms of online sexually-oriented exchanges are pornography and escorting; this paper focuses on the latter. Specifically, we have conducted a multi-method analysis of independent, online companions, courtesans, escorts–or erotic entrepreneurs—to better understand how they use strategic business practices to negotiate the liminal spaces they occupy between legality and illegality, morality and decadence.

 

An escort’s status is legally precarious due to the prohibition against prostitution in the United States and the legality, if not right, of selling one’s time. The constant negotiation of this seemingly flexible boundary between companionship and prostitution manifests in numerous ways throughout the business practices of professional escorts, from the content of their marketing and their screening methods and standards to their encounters with clients. Within the context of this boundary setting and transgressing, escorts manipulate moral boundaries in hopes of arousing desire and stimulating demand for their services, while at the same time maintaining the high value of those services through their self-presentation as moral and ‘good’ women. In short, they emphasize and operate within intentionally liminal spaces.

 

From September 2014 to March 2015 we constructed a database of independent escorts operating their own professional websites that advertise in the 10 largest metropolitan areas of the United States and Las Vegas. We then conducted an in-depth content analysis of a sub-sample of 50 websites drawn at random from this database. In addition, we are surveying and interviewing independent, online escorts, courtesans and companions regarding the strategies they employ to conduct their work safely and profitably. In this paper, we draw from these datasets to illustrate how independent online escorts navigate, push, and construct legal, moral, and personal boundaries to maintain the legality, enhance the profitability, and optimize the comfort of their professional work as escorts, courtesans, and companions

First, escorting’s legality depends upon the assertion that they are selling their time and company, not sexual acts. This is asserted in the form of a legal disclaimer usually to be found in fine print on a page requiring that the visitor indicate that they are of legal age (18) to view the site and that they accept the terms of use. These legal disclaimers explain that sex may occur but that if so this is a coincidence and is being undertaken by two consenting adults. We demonstrate that although this assertion is a necessary part of establishing the legality of escorting, most escorts also use other tactics such as collecting payment at the beginning of a session and strongly asserting that they reserve the right to end a session at any time if made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe through the missteps of the client.

Second, the moral discourses evoked by escorts themselves provide insights into moral liminality in this online marketplace. For example, the strategies employed by escorts on their websites and in their advertising illuminate moral boundaries beyond the traditional good or bad dichotomy. For example, escorts’ direct claims to self-determination and to personal enjoyment of their work, as well as the positive impact escorting itself has on clients, pushes the boundaries of the American value of self-determination while simultaneously distancing the escort from negative associations with prostitution and human trafficking. Furthermore, there is a dominant emphasis on discretion on elite escort websites. The choice of many escorts to blur their face in photos inverts the normal moral code for discretion in which the face can be visible while sexualized private body parts are covered. The escorts themselves assert that facial blurring protects both themselves and their clients. 

Lastly, we consider how some escorting policies construct personal boundaries to enhance the provider’s comfort and, we theorize, her profitability. Choices such as the exclusion of broad categories of clients (such as young men, for example, or newcomers to the escort market) can be understood as a rational choice not necessarily based on idiosyncratic personal preference, but a business strategy to attract more mature and experienced clients who have the means to spend generously on extended dates, are socialized into the norms of this type of exchange, and treat the escort well.

 

In closing, we argue that the analysis of liminal markets provides a particularly enticing approach to understanding diverse manifestations of market morals. There are few better arenas to do so than with new online communities organized and monetized around boundary crossing sexual services and interactions. Independent online escorts who run their own websites provide a rich site of analysis of the relationship between market and sex-based liminality, and the ways in which business practices simultaneously reinforce both morality and immorality, and legality and vice.

"TERribly Unequal:  Asymmetrical availability of information between Internet Sexual Service Providers and Prospective Clients”

Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Alex Nelson & Antoinette Izzo

Society for Applied Anthropology 76th Annual Meeting - April 2nd, 2016

 

Abstract:

Clients of online independent escorts have access to in-depth information about the escorts they hire through escort review sites and forums while providers must rely on simple blacklists, white lists, and referrals that typically offer only a basic vote of confidence or no confidence. Given the intimate and vulnerable nature of escorting, a system providing escorts with more detailed information about prospective clients would grant providers more agency in their selection of clients. Using analysis of escort websites, review sites, and survey and interview data collected from a sample of US escorts, we investigate this problem and discuss possible solutions.

 

 

 “Business Strategies of Erotic Entrepreneurs: Scripting Desire through Social, Cultural & Sexual Capital” 

Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Alex Nelson, Antoinette Izzo, & Sarah Bessen

Pacific Sociological Association Annual Meeting: Oakland - March 31st, 2016

 

Abstract:

The ubiquity of WiFi and the rapid advancement of personal computing and mobile technologies have opened new niches for sexual commerce. This paper analyzes online marketing and the presentation of self among high-end, independent, online escorts operating in the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, and Las Vegas, the American capital of eroticized commerce. Our original dataset includes a comprehensive database of more than 1,700 women advertising online as elite, independent escorts, and an extensive visual and qualitative textual analysis of a subset of  50 of their personal websites. Using a theoretical framework informed by Goffman, Bourdieu, and Baudrillard, we analyze the textual and visual cues employed by these erotic entrepreneurs. We ask how these independent internet-based escorts: 1) script their interactions with clients through self-presentation techniques and by scripting the presentation of self they expect of their customers; 2) invoke their social and cultural capital, alongside their sexual capital, to dictate their rates and economic capital; and 3) understand the ways that mediatization and the cool smiles of seduction are part of their business model itself. Our data provide insights into these empirical and theoretical questions, and in doing so, we move the study of market-based sex beyond entrenched debates about trafficking and sex work.

 

  

“Erotic Entrepreneurship: An Analysis of the Business Practices or Independent Online Escorts in the United States” 

Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Alex Nelson & Antoinette Izzo

American Anthropological Association 114th Annual Meeting - November 18th, 2015

 

Abstract:

The Introduction of the internet has democratized sex work to the point that sex workers can now advertise to clients across the globe, set boundaries, and screen clients all from the comfort of their own homes. We argue that not only is sex work, but it is a booming entrepreneurial business.  Despite the growing professionalization of escorting enabled by the internet and the resultant increased power for providers to control how they market themselves and to control which clients they accept, there is an astounding paucity of research on the specific business strategies employed by escorts operating their own independent websites. In this paper, we analyze the specific business strategies utilized by independent website operating escorts whom the internet has granted vastly greater ability to dictate the terms of their own erotic and intimate labor. As a first step towards understanding how independent escorts are utilizing these resources, we have compiled a database of 1,758 independent website owning escorts in the ten largest metropolitan areas in the US and Las Vegas and here present the findings of website content analysis, survey, and interview data drawn from these erotic entrepreneurs. Through this unique dataset we attempt to answer: How do independent escorts sort out desirable from undesirable clients? How do they maximize their profitability while avoiding providing those services they find undesirable? And, to what extent is escorting intertwined with other legal businesses such as hospitality, photography, web hosting and design, tax accounting, search engine optimization, and other “legitimate” businesses?

 

 

“Sex Work and Commerce in Late Capitalism: Online Escorts as Erotic Entrepreneurs”  

Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Alex Nelson & Antoinette Izzo

Troubling Prostitution: Exploring Intersections of Sex, Intimacy, and Labour Conference by COST Action ProsPol  Conference - April 17th, 2015

Abstract

Frederic Jameson famously characterized postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism. We characterize intimate commerce as the sexual logic of neoliberal capitalism, and explore the implications of this for sex work. With increasingly blurred lines between the body industry that uses sex to sell non-sexual goods and services, and the sex industry which sells intimate sexual contact and fantasies, the realm of sexual commerce has expanded and normalized. Much of this mainstreaming of sex and its discourses is connected to the growth and sophistication of imaging technologies and global communication, especially the internet. It is in this landscape of instantaneous access to images, messages, information, communication, monetary exchange, and other people, that new forms of sexual commerce thrive. Internet sexual service providers, or online escorts, are one such social group. This paper explores the ways that these sex workers straddle the realms of legality and illegality, and negotiate neoliberal sexual exchange by appropriating more conventional business practices to manage their images, interactions, and work. The neoliberal landscape of the body consists of flows of desire, money, information, and power. We ask how independent online escorts negotiate, utilize and disrupt these flows through their online practices. First, this paper discusses the transition from more traditional U.S. sex work as a largely invisible, illegal, and private enterprise, to one that is highly visible in the public sphere and utilizes many of the same types of strategic business practices employed by more traditional commercial enterprises. Second, we draw upon original data from a large-scale online study that examines online advertising and websites of independent escorts in the ten largest metropolitan areas in the United States and in Las Vegas, the symbolic center of the U.S. sex industry, to analyze the marketing and branding discourses and business practices of independent, online escorts. We conclude by arguing that the concept of erotic entrepreneurship provides a promising new theoretical and empirical framework for resistance and empowerment in neoliberal sexual commerce.

© 2016 Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Ph.D.

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