This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
The use of Internet technology for solicitation by sex workers has raised important legal and regulatory questions. We provide a description of the new institutions that facilitate prostitution online, and their potential market effects. We then supply some of the first evidence on several key parameters of interest to policymakers. First, we find that workers who solicit online largely represent growth in the overall prostitution market, as opposed to simple displacement of the off-line, street-focused market, although we find sizeable displacement effects among sex workers in their 30s and 40s. Using a newly-implemented survey, we also find that most sex workers who solicit online engage in lower-risk behaviors than traditional street-based workers; however, workers close to the margin for migration from outdoor work bring riskier business and sexual practices with them as they enter the off-street-sector.¹
Takeesha in a hotel, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
If a woman meets a man at a hotel, it's like this:
The room is bare of personal effects save for a large box of Honeycomb cereal on top of the mini-fridge, a carton of White Cheddar Cheez-It and a bottle of Febreze that share a dresser with the TV.
It smells of smoke and there are burn holes on the bedding, but it's OK, it's a room for an hour or few. If lucky, time enough for a date or two and for a few hours of sleep alone. All that's wanted: a place to sleep, a shower.
To sell the woman to a man, a pimp takes photos of her in a fishnet dress with netted holes the size of fists. She kneels in a rolling desk chair, points her ass out. You can imagine her as a child crouched inside a shopping cart.
The room is small; how else to show off her ass?
She'll take selfies in the mirror for a front view. The pimp posts the photos from his smartphone.
She is 10-15 years younger in the ad. She can deliver Ultimate Satisfaction. Men call her to say when.
She shoots extra dope, and smokes equal crack. It's hard to read somebody over the phone, the first meeting when she opens her hotel room door. It's hard to know who's grimy, who's a crazy motherfucker. In a car, you can get a visual.
She lives homeless, this, a place where sheets, showers and cable TV are real, accessible anytime. And electricity, constant electricity. AC and heat.
She's hears this is where the money's at. Everyone says so.
To be on backpage this way is making it. It means having a credit card (or enough cash to buy a gift card) to pay for the ad; it means having a smartphone to post the ad; it means having clean clothes and a stable place to take a client.
It is a mark of success, a promotion from sucking dicks in truckers' cabs.
Women wish for this, the stuff of dreams.
Takeesha, hotel shower, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
This is what men say about these women:
Acronyms and terms, in order of appearance: incall = the man goes to the woman; BBJ = bare back blow job; CBJ = covered blow job; gfe = girlfriend experience; CL / BP = Craigslist / Backpage