October 8th, 2008

The following is a piece I wrote at the end of last spring about the escort review site The Erotic Review. For reasons of conflicting interests, The Village Voice was unable to run the piece as a Click Me column. Since I turned it in, many of the details behind this story have changed: Dave Elms has been in and out of jail, Dave of Phoenix has come to light as a man with mixed intentions, etc. Friend and fellow sex writer Melissa Gira is currently working on a spot for Current TV that details the up-to-date surrounding this, one of the most popular — and also the most troubled — sites where sex work meets the web.

According to The Erotic Review, redheaded Gina of midtown Manhattan doesn’t use condoms when she performs oral sex on clients. Her profile on the popular website, which hosts testimonials from customers who’ve visited sex workers, describes her as shaved, with “youthful” breasts. At $600 an hour, she reportedly swallows, does rimming, and even drinks urine. In the words of one reviewer, she’ll do “just about anything.” The problem, warns ex-escort and author Amanda Brooks, is that she may not want to do those things.

Started in 1999 by site head David Elms, The Erotic Review seems at first glance like a great resource for sex workers and their clients. It’s frank motto: Johns are consumers too, and they deserve the same right to compare products as anyone else. “We all work hard for our money,” declares the site’s About page, “and we don’t want to waste it on someone who doesn’t deliver as promised.” With over 500,000 escort reviews written by over a million registered members, The Erotic Review describes itself as “keeping an otherwise illegal business honest.”

However, some say honesty doesn’t rank high at The Erotic Review. Brooks–profiled in a December, 2007 Click Me as the California sex worker finishing up her bible for tech-savvy pleasure professionals, The Internet Escort’s Handbook—calls the site and others like it “part of the real seamy underside” of prostitution’s online presence. Normally an advocate for the opportunities the internet affords independent escorts, Brooks explains that, while the testimonials on The Erotic Review appear straightforward, they’re “famously very explicit. The escorts are graded based on a checklist of sexual activities, including some considered risky by safer sex standards”—such as unprotected oral sex. The more risky behavior an escort takes part in, the higher her rating.

“The Erotic Review also has a persistent problem of reviewers leaving false or made-up reviews,” Brooks adds. “Since VIP access, which allows one to read reviews, can be gotten for free by submitting reviews, some cheapskates submit false reviews.” Add that to the high rating for risk, and it’s not hard to see why many “providers” (The Erotic Review’s official term for prostitutes) don’t like the site. Of course, Brooks admits over email, “there are plenty of escorts who love it because a string of 9s and 10s on means good business. Some girls have a website and exclusively advertise on The Erotic Review.”

To hear it from another sex worker though, who goes by the name Dave in Phoenix, this site for informed consumers is up to worse than a few fabricated reviews. A longtime activist for strippers’ and escorts’ rights, Dave runs a website of his own—one dedicated to cataloging the complaints brought against this “disgrace to the industry.” He claims that many of the testimonials on The Erotic Review have been “juiced up by saying the provider did something she refuses to do” for reasons of sexual health. “Then others will call up and expect the same services,” which leaves escorts in a tough spot. If they refuse to the service, they risk receiving a bad review—something Dave explains can seriously damage business.

More unsettling are the reports from sex workers, published by Dan and spanning nearly six years, that Elms harasses providers who ask him to take town fake or misleading reviews. Dave lists it as his number one qualm: “insistence on solving any dreamed-up problem by coming to [Elms’] home in LA and giving him free sex.” To back up his allegation, Dave has printed anonymous letters from escorts who say they’ve experienced Elms’ problem-solving first hand. One writes, “After at least four phone calls I finally agreed to meet with him. He picked me up at midnight (I never go out that late) and he took me to his house… He made me give him oral sex. I was so disgusted with myself that I had to resort to letting him use his power trip on me.”

And what if providers refuse? Dave claims those who have often find themselves blacklisted from the site—and reminds that “obviously those reviews on my site are a very small tip of the iceberg.” That’s why escorts like midtown’s Gina can’t be contacted for comment. She could lose not only her reputation but also her livelihood.

It’s been known to happen before. Elms himself, brief but cordial on the phone from his base in Los Angeles, retells a story he posted to the Erotic Review forums this past Christmas Eve. What he calls “a real touching one,” it’s about a sex worker who would’ve lost everything—her house, her kids—if he hadn’t reinstated her reviews, originally taken down because his staff suspected her of writing them herself. While Elms will no make no official comment on the accusations that he brings escorts to his home, he says he has no concern that fictional reviews may be appearing on his site. “If you see ten reviews that say the same thing, then they’re correct,” he says. “Simple. Majority rules.”

Even Dave admits, “The idea of the site, the reviews, the huge discussion board are great.” As for Brooks, she’s handled the matter her own way. “The whole idea of reviewing an escort as though she were a machine to be put through her paces is distasteful to me,” she says, explaining that her business actually improved when she left The Erotic Review. “It forced potential clients to focus on ME.”

Tags: my articles, sex workers

9 Responses to “‘Buyer Beware — and the Sex Workers They’re Buying From, Too””

  1. Woodstock Says:

    Of course, one of the fantastic things about the Internet is that anyone can start a new website – the tough part would be getting users, but I can see the space being wide open for another “provider” review site – perhaps Dave or Brooks should start their own?

    I think the idea of a review site is even more important in a black/gray market area like this – there’s no BBB for prostitution (just BBBJs) so consumers don’t have any fallbacks if they get cheated or receive poor service. I can also see such a service helping the providers as well – if there were some sort of rating for ethical behavior, it would promote trust and perhaps make the provider situation better. Customers could patronize only providers who were ethically treated, happy, and healthy, perhaps, and drive change by voting with their dollars.

  2. Brisbane Escort Says:

    This reminds me of something we have in Brisbane, Australia. I will be sure to inform Escort Brisbane about it. Thanks for the info.

  3. Melbourne Girl Says:

    Brisbane, above comment, what is it you have there exactly?

  4. melbourne brothels Says:

    They are really interesting ideas for websites. We plan to survey sex workers and use the results to rank brothels by hygiene and safety for the workers.

  5. Holly Says:

    Nice replies in return of this question with real arguments
    and telling all regarding that.

  6. The Big Ripoff: TER, The Texas Murder Aquittal, and the Myth of the Vulnerable Client Says:

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