Monday, July 25, 2016

Trust and crime: Reputation in the (illegal) market for sex

Quartz has an article on how sex workers can vet new customers, in the age of the internet: Sex workers have created the perfect method for keeping people honest online. (I like the url better than the headline:

"If you work at Goldman Sachs in New York City and you want to tie up a woman and then have sex with her, there’s a good chance you’ll first have to speak to Rita.
She’ll insist on calling your office, speaking to the switchboard operator, and being patched through to your desk. Then she will want to check out your profile on the company website and LinkedIn. She’ll demand you send her message from your work email, and require a scan of either your passport or driver’s license.
"Mid-range prostitution is a relatively new market, enabled by technology. Before the internet, it was hard for escorts to find customers: They had to either walk the streets searching for customers (the lower end of the market), rely on word-of-mouth, or work with agencies. Walking the streets was dangerous, while agencies ate up a large share of workers’ profit and autonomy, and created a bottleneck to entering the market. The internet changed all that.

“Before the internet, agencies provided the steady flow of clients and screening, but their capacity was capped,” Baylor University economist Scott Cunningham said. Soon after Craigslist launched in 1995, US escorts quickly started marketing directly to customers online. This newfound ability to advertise on the internet grew the market, said Cunningham, because more women and men could work independently
"Even criminals need someone they can trust

"If you’re selling something illegal, you can’t rely on the law to make sure the buyer upholds their end of the deal. Once the bill comes, clients might turn violent, or turn out to be cops. That means trust commands a large premium and that’s the centerpiece of Rita’s business model: watertight background checks on would-be johns.

"Rita represents sex workers who offer BDSM in addition to sex. When rough play is on the list of services you offer, a high level of trust is essential; hence, Rita’s elaborate screening process, which can take days. “I am looking to weed out police and crazies,” she said. She estimates that only one in four potential customers ultimately passes. Those who do win some time with a professional escort/dominatrix, but it comes at a hefty price: Each hour can cost up to $800, and Rita’s cut is 30%."


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