Leeds' hidden vice trade: 'My life as an online escort'

A growing number of prostitutes in Yorkshire are abandoning their old haunts of street corners and massage parlours and instead advertising their services online.

PAUL ROBINSON speaks to one woman with direct experience of vice in the digital age

Diane has, by her own admission, been on and off the game since her 20s.

Now pushing 40, she's sampled virtually every aspect of the vice trade, from street prostitution to work in Yorkshire's massage parlours.

Her most recent stints selling her body, however, happened via web-based escorting - a phenomenon that has both changed the face of the British sex industry and sparked safety concerns among experts.

As reported in yesterday's Yorkshire Evening Post, hundreds of men and women across the county are advertising sexual services on easy-to-access adult websites.

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No up front payment or registration is required for a punter to view photos, check hourly and half-hourly rates and make appointments, often via openly-listed mobile phone numbers.

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Sophisticated search engines also allow users to check how many escorts are operating within specific areas.

Diane is one of the local sex workers wise to the power of the internet, clocking up around 11 months over two spells on the trade's most successful site during the last three years.

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She says getting her profile up-and-running on the site took "a matter of minutes" - and, once that was done, it didn't take long before bookings began rolling in.

"I was getting calls within a day of my profile going on," West Yorkshire-based Diane told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"I'm older than a lot of the other girls who used the site but I used to wipe the floor with them - it was all down to marketing.

"The site offers a visual portal and you have got to appeal to the

client and seduce him through it.

"How much was I making? Well, this is only me, obviously it varies from girl to girl, but probably somewhere in the region of 400 a week.

"For that I'd see about one to four clients. I tried to keep myself exclusive - years in the sex industry have taught me to have fewer guys for longer, so you're not bashing your body as much.

"There are girls on there, though, who are looking for a constant stream of clients. They see the site as an advertising service, plain and simple, they will just have their number on and give anybody their address.

"They can be doing seven or eight clients a day."

Tapping into the money-making opportunities offered by the website doesn't come cheap, though.

"It's a little bit like going on a dating site," said Diane, who was speaking to the YEP on condition of anonymity. "It's free to join, but if you want to make your profile visible to others then you have to pay.

"I spent 400 a month promoting my profile. That would mean I was listed as being available every day.

"Then I would pay 1.50 a day to appear in the local search engines and 1 a day to be in the alternative section, because I used to do domination.

"If you wanted your blog to appear on the home page, that would cost 50p."

Diane, however, discovered that despite the site being happy to take her money, the people behind it were not as receptive when the ugly side of vice reared its head.

"The website I used is a big, invisible organisation and trying to get them involved when there has been a problem is almost impossible," she said.

"I had a big argument with them because I had a client who effectively stalked me and assaulted me and I knew I couldn't go to the police unless I had more information about him.

"I e-mailed the site asking for their assistance and they threw back a load of terms and conditions at me.

"It meant that if the police had investigated (the incidents], I don't think they'd have been able to approach the website."

Addressing experts' worries that the site's existence encourages women to put themselves at risk by working from home alone, Diane said: "I felt reasonably safe, as I took sensible precautions.

"Some clients on the site register themselves so they can access certain private photo galleries and movies.

"When they are registered, girls they have seen can give them feedback that other girls can view. I stuck to clients with positive feedback.

"Working from home could be a problem, though, if you're inexperienced and want lots of clients.

"I was alarmed at how many girls who worked from home had children.

"I'm convinced there was even one woman on there who had a baby in another room while she was working. That horrified me."

The site used by Diane currently has details of nearly 1,500 men, women and couples across Yorkshire and the Humber.

It has profiles for around 380 women within 10 miles of Leeds's LS1 postcode area alone.

But although they virtually all carry explicit details of what they have to offer, the site itself uses verbal sleight-of-hand to distance itself from the actual act of selling sex.

The main login page carries a message saying it is "committed to providing a safe and anonymous environment where individuals can distribute and market their own adult products, services and content".

Another line then says "any money paid to the adult escorts listed on this website is for their time and companionship only. Whatever else that may occur if and when contact is made is the choice of consenting adults".

Attempts to pinpoint a place of operation for the site's administrators soon get lost in a fog of overseas confusion.

The site's internet address has links with the Netherlands but postal addresses are available for both Gibraltar and Central America.

An e-mail to the website's publicly-listed technical contact asking for a comment on its activities, meanwhile, bounced back as undeliverable.

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