Spitzer Scandal Sheds Light On Web Prostitution
The controversy surrounding New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has shed light (a red light) on a number of underground activities. Besides government corruption and the sex trade in general, Spitzer’s use of the Internet to connect with prostitutes is exposing a huge industry with which people may not be familiar.
Or even know exists.
The online escort/call girl/"model"/prostitute scene isn’t so hard to find, though. Just use Google. If the organic results don’t fit what you’re looking for, AdWords can help, too.
The truth is, investigating this scene is much like investigating the adult entertainment scene. The breadth, depth, and scope of prostitution available via online booking is staggering, indicating that just like the online porn industry, sex trade is not just a huge industry, but one that employs cutting edge marketing techniques, and one that apparently is thriving.
Just Google It
It’s unclear at this point exactly how Governor Spitzer was referred to the Emperor’s Club website. But if he’s a self-starter, he could have used a search engine like Google. A search for [new york call girls] for example brings up a host of relevant organic links, most of which seem to be news article related.
The sponsored links, though, are another story. Sponsored results for these keywords brought back websites like BadGurlModels (screen shots will be provided but no links), HourGirl, and a site advertising "full service" $50 half-hours and $100 hours. Full-service is, according to research, code for you-know-what.
Similar results came back for [full service escorts] and [ny gfe]. "GFE" is another code meaning "girlfriend experience," which means the escort is open to certain things like kissing and other "girlfriend"-type activities. [ny gfe] brought 491,000 results in Google, along with their very own targeted ads.
Not all incarnations of the word "prostitute" work, by the way. A search for "whore," for example, brings back a myriad other results. Apparently the connotation of that word has changed a bit.
It would be impossible to explore every website offering some kind of escort service, and many of them seem to have shut down since the revelation about Governor Eliot, including the Emperor’s Club website he used. But perusing some of them reveals details that would be mundane if talking about any other business.
When people think of prostitution, they generally think of street-walkers with cash-only policies. The 21st Century, though, brings change to the world’s oldest profession, too. Visitations can be booked with cash or credit. There is often a registration process for potential clients, or a requirement that the client participate in a screening process. One escort requested that clients specify ethnicity when booking.
Some have model-recruitment programs, and offer $250 per referral, payable after the "model’s" third successful appointment.
Some offer discounts for daytime appointments. Others have senior citizen discounts.
Though some are pretty up-front about what they offer, the more cautious ones provide a legal disclaimer, that usually is worded something like this:
Payment is for companionship only. Anything outside this is a matter between two or more consenting adults. This is not an offer of prostitution.
Regardless, that "companionship" and anything a client can talk her into usually has a flat-pricing model, with hourly rates ranging from $150 to $3,600. Just like in the brick-and-mortar world, some places of business are more of the Wal-Mart variety, while others cater to a more, well, selective clientele.
Some of the more expensive ones put some of that money toward very high-tech, 007-type surveillance equipment that allows them to watch whomever might be watching them.
A Virtual Smorgasbord
Governor Spitzer obviously had a certain taste: prostitutes he could take to Washington on important visits that didn’t look like a prostitute and could provide him confidence that she would exercise her right to remain silent. There are more expensive women than $4,300 for two hours, but he is a government employee at the end of the day.
If money is no object, a fat-walleted client can choose from a menu of women on sites similar to the Emperor’s Club, some with the same diamond-rating system. A seven-diamond lady, if paying by credit card, will run about $3,600 per hour. If paying by cash, a client can get a $600 per hour discount. If he wants to weed out the less expensive, less exclusive women, he can run a more specific search for [high class call girls] or [high class escorts] and Google will bring him back what he is looking for, thanks to some good SEO and SEM.
With the Internet, though, choices aren’t limited to the New York area (NYC though is some kind of high-class call girl mecca) or to one type, or even to just two genders. Options are available anywhere one might travel: Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta, Chicago, or Las Vegas. Admittedly, given the legal status of prostitution in Nevada, Las Vegas is a degree less shocking.
Flying to London, France, Italy, Romania, or Czech Republic? No problem. Thailand or the Philippines? The Internet has John covered.
Approaches are notably different in the southern United States than in New York. Websites devoted to southern escorts appear to be more up-front with what is offered via easily-deciphered code language. Thanks goes out to UrbanDictionary.com for help with the decoding. Many of their websites, though, are no longer online.
Southern escorts don’t have "rates," by the way, but they do accept donations, and are happy to post the types of gifts they enjoy.
One, for example, expressed a liking for World War II memorabilia.
All of these options too Anglo? Again, no problem. There are websites devoted to every ethnicity. One Asian escort website promised "new girls every two weeks" as though they had regular shipments of "product."
If all of this isn’t surprising enough, some of the thousands of websites are well ahead of the online marketing game and employ just about every avenue at their disposal. The sites are very well designed, some very expensive looking. The more expensive ones employ the right blend of Flash and text.
Many have blogs and interactive calendars. Some are portals. Many are set up like social networks where clients are treated as "friends" who refer other "friends." In fact, many are reference-based only, which makes one wonder if Spitzer was referred by someone, or if his name-recognition got him a free (and perhaps nerve-wracking) pass. Then again, he’s been reportedly participating for ten years, before these sites became so sophisticated. Maybe he was a usenet guy.
One site was set up exactly like a traditional dating site, an eHarmony for hookers. It boasted 2,800 direct phone numbers for registered members.
And then there are the niche-industry players, the support-industry. Some websites specialize in escort web-design, and judging by the quality of some of the sites, there’s a decent market for it. Some of these offered free websites for escorts, as though part of an affiliate marketing program.
The websites are heavily SEO’ed to make them appear in the top ten results for certain queries, which makes one wonder how involved the SEO business is with the online escort scene, especially when the branding efforts are sophisticated enough to include paid search result complements.
They also haven’t forgotten to make use of local search engines and mapping services. Just for one example, you can check out prostitute blogger College CallGirl’s guide to New York City sex hotels on GridSkipper.
Well, one thing we know: As long as there are clients willing to pay and entrepreneurs willing to provide, this industry isn’t going away. So the industry itself is probably not in trouble.
Spitzer probably wishes the same could be said for him, since he has resigned. As for orchestrated online marketing campaigns for the sex trade, or activities that could be construed as the sex trade, it is unknowable at this point if a crackdown would be likely, possible, or fruitful.
It could be, maybe, at least temporarily, until they pop up again "under new management." One other thing we know: Other "underground" heavily marketed products, like pharmaceuticals, illicit drugs, etc., are not quite so sophisticated or up-to-date in their online campaigns. Some illegal markets are pretty heavily masked and much more clandestine and difficult to find.
The sites we found, not all of which claim directly to be prostitution sites, are not so careful, and in fact are very much designed for anyone to find them. We found via search. They have put a lot of effort and money into online marketing and seem to have mastered every element from site design, to search marketing, to social media, to vertical search and mapping.
And that’s, well, pretty blatant.