This month Deviance takes a closer look at some of the people in the sex industry. In part one we talk to Laura Lee, an independent escort working in Glasgow. She describes herself as a ‘happy hooker’
First can you just explain what 'escort buddies' is?
It’s a scheme set up by a friend of mine down south and basically what it aims to do is match up new ladies that come into the industry with more experienced ladies so that we can share experience with them, give them some dos and don’ts and also share with them lists of known time-wasters, idiot clients.
Unfortunately there are guys who search the net looking for new girls and they will try to push boundaries. In an 'oh, all the girls do this they just don’t advertise it' sort of way. So it’s really to safeguard them against that, and to advise them as well so that they know what they’re up against. The stigma, the social isolation, the lies, the secrecy.
If I personally take a newbie under my wing I don’t spare any blushes, I let them have it, the reality of it.
So you have a lot of responsibility for a newcomer?
I guess you do. In the first instance you want to make sure the lady really knows what she’s getting herself into and the ramifications that decision has. That sounds very negative, and it’s not meant to. [Escorting] can be a fabulous career for the right lady. Certainly, I love it. I wouldn’t comprehend working for anybody else now. Working for myself is just what I love doing, but you need to go into it with your eyes open. So I do feel responsible for anyone I take on, yes definitely.
Are there things that you are happy you didn’t know when you first got into sex work?
I guess I’m grateful I wasn’t really aware of the seedy underbelly that exists. There is a large group of men, I suppose, who really don’t respect women, and they’re all about pushing boundaries, trying to get away with things that ordinarily they wouldn’t do. You hear about these guys every so often, a warning will go up on the various [internet forums]. So yes, I was a bit doe-eyed, but I was very lucky way back then I had two older ladies who took me under their wing.
The first time somebody asked for, um, watersports I thought we were going yachting for the day [watersports being sex acts involving urine, golden showers etc] and the women who were looking after me nearly peed themselves laughing.
What kind of advice do you give to newcomers?
First and foremost it’s a cutthroat industry. It’s very bitchy so choose your buddies carefully and don’t give away too much about yourself and your real life. Sort yourself out for tax, it’s important to give the tax man something. Cover yourself in the event that the unspeakable happens and the press do get a hold of you.
You also need to establish what sector of the market you want to appeal to. From that you would also decide what services you want to offer, your pricing structure, your advertising and where’s best to do that, and then obviously your sexual health practices as well.
Some of the advertising websites do more than others to protect the people who use their sites when offering commercial sex. Do you think there is proper protection online?
I’m not sure that protect is the right word, but certainly the ethos of many of the major sites is very much pro-sex worker, so it comes down very hard on things like trafficking and under-age girls. If we get one whiff of that the person is then reported to Crimestoppers.
Other sites seem to allow women to advertise things like barebacking, which is not really in their best interest. To me it’s slow suicide really. Russian roulette. So they have a less caring attitude maybe.
How does the current legislation – that sex work is legal, but working in a group is not – affect you? Does it make it more difficult to create a network of support?
You can always have a network of support. If there’s two ladies together in a premises then it’s deemed to be a brothel and that’s illegal. So in terms of touring together how you get around that is simply to have a hotel room next to your buddy and then if anything were to kick off she’ll be there. It does make it difficult, what they are effectively doing is leaving women as sitting ducks for the various psychopaths that are out there. For instance if you look at the Ipswich murders, they should never have happened. It’s that simple. The state had blood on its hands there.
I can’t fathom why they would say that it’s okay for one woman but not okay for two. After all we’re not talking about a big, all singing, Nevada style ranch here, we’re talking about a private apartment with two women in it.
And surely it’s not as bad as having students living beside you…
They’re actually worse. They party till like two, three in the morning. It’s like ‘shut up, I have a booking at 9am’. That’s where the whole stigma thing comes in.
When I got outed in the last town I lived in the neighbours were all like, ‘oh, but she seemed such a nice girl.’ Hello, I am a nice girl. Just because this is my job doesn’t change who I am. It’s the tag that’s given to us, automatically people look down their nose at you.
I don’t know what needs to change first. Does the legislation need to change or the attitudes towards us in society?
Are there parallels between this situation and that of the stigma surrounding homosexuality?
They’re both minority groups, sex workers and gay people, but gay people’s rights have come on so much since, say, the 1950s. They can get married now, they can adopt children, they have nearly all the same rights as heterosexual people. And so it should be.
When I was growing up the stigma around gay men was so strong that they were automatically assumed to be paedophiles. They were this group of horrid individuals that were to be shunted away into a corner and never discussed. That’s all changed.
Why has it taken so long for the laws around sex work to catch up?
I just don’t know why we haven’t caught up in our attitudes towards sex workers. It is improving, but it’s painfully slow. We need more people, like myself, to stand up and let people know that we’re normal. Honestly. I burn toast and stuff too.
There’s a mystery surrounding sex work and that is caused by the fact that it’s all so damn clandestine. People are afraid of press or family, neighbours finding out.
Will we ever have a Whore Pride March in London? I don’t know. I hope so.
What about Slutwalk?
Yeah. It was a missed opportunity. There was a snobbery around that which I found rather comical. I hang around lots of forums where ladies only, escorts, post and some of them were saying, ‘I don’t consider myself a slut, I’m not going on that.’ I thought 'For fuck sake!'
There’s an elitism in the industry where some girls at my level (urgh, even that sounds snobby), will look down their nose at parlour girls, who in turn will look down on street workers.
From my point of view, and certainly from the IUSW’s point of view [the International Union of Sex Workers] we’re all sex workers, end of. We all do the same job. You might do it in your boot and heels, or round the back of ASDA, doesn’t matter.
You get the anti-s and the abolitionists bandying around aged reports, usually on street workers, to say that oh 70, 80% of them are the result of some abusive or traumatic experience. It’s all rubbish.
I’ve worked in this industry on and off for sixteen years and met a lot of different people from various different levels of the industry and some of the strongest women I’ve met have been sex workers. Some of the most together people.
No-one is saying it doesn’t happen, of course it does, but it is very much in the minority.
What I was quite shocked about was how many of the government reports on prostitution had been funded by groups with an ideological stance against it. Groups who considered all prostitution to be exploitation, as a foundational belief. How can that bring up objective data?
Well exactly. I think the key to moving forward is to open the channels of communication between the police and ourselves, so that we don’t need to live in fear of having it on our record for the rest of our lives that we’re a known sex worker.
That’s currently happening in some sectors of Scotland. Say I go to a flat tomorrow and I’m really unhappy with what I see there, maybe a couple of eastern European women who don’t look… right. I should be able to go to the police and say ‘you need to look into this’ rather than trying to stay under the radar. They’re shooting themselves in the foot by creating a rift between us and them.
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