Ordinary women are being lured into prostitution through networking sites with offers of glamour and cash.
After a friend was approached through her MySpace profile with the promise she’d “earn £100 an hour having fun”, I went undercover to find out exactly what these girls are being lured in to.
The flattering email – from “Jules” – complimented her on her appearance and told her she’d be able to “select the type of clients she sees and approve every appointment”.
It also assured her that security checks would be taken care of.
So, to expose the reality, I emailed Jules, calling myself Charlotte and pretending to be interested.
Two days later I turned up to meet her at a London Tube station, armed with a small bag of clothes.
She’d asked me to bring a selection of sexy outfits so she could take photographs and put my “working” profile up on the web right away.
Jules reeked of alcohol and later apologised for “being a bit tipsy”. She’d been with a client that day and had been drinking champagne. “You get a lot of that in this job. So if you like champagne you’re on to a winner,” she laughed.
We settled into a nearby Starbucks and she immediately reassured me: “You’ve got the job by the way. This is not really an interview – if we like the look of you, you can start.”
She didn’t ask about my background, my age, whether I’d done this before and she didn’t question my emotional state.
The only questions she asked me in the course of our two-hour meeting were what sexual acts I was uncomfortable with and what days I was unavailable to work.
She never once made any reference to safe sex or asked if I’d had sexual health checks myself.
She told me the going rate is £100 an hour. She charges a £25 booking fee plus a £10 fee for every hour.
But for the first five bookings, she takes an extra £10 per hour because she claims it takes extra time to push the profiles of new girls. That means her recruits are expected to perform a series of sexual acts for just £55, and to arrange their own transport.
“We used to be able to charge more, but with the credit crunch it’s gone down, and there are much less overnight stays,” she said. “You would have got a lot for those – around £800.”
Jules explained that the price could vary from week to week.
“If we find you’re getting loads of inquiries we might put your prices up but if you’re not getting much response from the website, and it does happen, we’ll have to put your prices down.”
I asked her how the security checks were done. “Oh, that’s Jonathan, he does all the client side of things, I don’t know how he checks, but trust me, he does.”
Having supposedly calmed my fears about safety, she went on to paint a glamorous picture of a life full of luxury hotels and gifts. “I’ve not bought perfume for two years,” she bragged.
“You’ll meet so many interesting people. I’ve had all sorts of clients from High Court judges to electricians.”
After a half-hour chat, she was keen to get me to the hotel to do the paperwork. She had a room booked that she’d used to entertain a client earlier.
She wanted to use the room to photograph me. I asked if we could do the paperwork in the hotel bar – unwilling to have my photos taken by a stranger.
Jules ordered a large glass of wine and water for me then produced three sheets of paper.
The first page asked for my real name, a “working name” and physical details such as height, bra size and eye colour.
I gave a false name but she never checked my ID. If I ever went missing on a job – how would anyone find me?
The second page was to select the type of male client I’d prefer. The third listed the sex acts I may be expected to perform. They were colour coded: white for what was “normal”, yellow for “what I can refuse to do” and blue for what would merit “extra payment”.
The “extras” included “unprotected sex” and “unprotected sex until completion”. There were some phrases I’d never heard before. Jules didn’t offer to explain them.
After half an hour another girl joined us for the photo session. Jules had recruited her the day before.
Jane (her “working name”) was mouse-like. “I’d never normally do this,” she confessed as Jules went outside for a cigarette, “but so many things are bad in my life right now.
“I split with my boyfriend and then I lost my job and I just can’t get anything. I went to two other agencies from an advert on the internet. But both of them ripped me off.”
She reluctantly told how she’d given them an “appointment fee” of £200 or more then the so-called agencies disappeared without trace. “I have bills to pay, and this could just be what I need,” she concluded.
Worryingly, she seemed to genuinely believe that escorting was a good way of getting out of a bad situation.
Even more alarmingly, despite admitting she was in a very vulnerable state of mind, she was willing to be represented by a stranger who contacted her on the internet.
Certain types of prostitution are legal in the UK but for girls who chose to do it there is a significant risk to personal safety and emotional stability.
Chris Student from the International Union of Sex Workers warns: “I’d never encourage this type of work. But if people are going to do it they need to know exactly who they are working for, get ID, ask to meet other workers. This is an industry where there is a particular danger.”
Jules was persuasive and charming and it’s easy to see how girls hungry for money could trust her – and her reassurances that male clients go through security checks.
But what she does is another argument against having an open profile online. Anyone could be studying your photos, sizing you up as a possible sex worker.
Jules told me MySpace kept deleting her account when they found out she was contacting potential recruits. But it didn’t deter her. “I just start a new profile up again,” she laughed.
A MySpace spokesperson said: “We have measures to monitor emails, but unless something in the language triggers an alert, we can’t investigate. If someone reported a potential abusive email, we’d look into it.”
Excerpt from the MySpace email:
Hiya, you seem like an adventurous, fun-loving girl… perhaps you’d be interested in this?
Would you like to earn over £100 an hour having fun, part-time, with flexible hours to suit you? Working as little or as much as you want?
I’m an escort working together with part-time girls from 18 to 35 who earn on average over £100 an hour. Everyone works flexibly with hours to suit them – some work up to 10 hours a week, others only a couple of hours a month – it’s entirely up to you.
All the girls choose the kind of client they see and approve every appointment before it’s finalised.
The agency does all the marketing, sales and security so you have nothing at all to bother about except the appointments.