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Escort Services - An International Perspective

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Keywords: study on escort services, escort service study

INTRODUCTION 

This paper will consider some of the key issues and challenges surrounding escort services provision. Where possible the arguments and discussions presented seek to generate a broader, more international view in order to encourage open debate around this socially, culturally and legally sensitive topic (Laskowski, 2002).  

In examining this area, the initial difficulty is in capturing a single, shared understanding of what escort services are (Scoular & O’Neill, 2007). Most societal expectations automatically generate an assumption that the individual providing escort services is a sex worker, although the range of activities involved can include more benign requirements such as social companionship (Burghart, 2017). Many escort agencies operate within legal national frameworks by openly offering such companionship or more accepted services (e.g. massages). The personal nature of those activities then creates the environment within which subsequent informal and less open negotiations around what sexual services (if any) can be provided by the escort (UK National Escorts Association, 2018). 

It therefore follows that escort services involve the provision of personal, intimate and tailored engagement to a client for remuneration, which may or may not include the provision of sexual services (Agustin, 2009). 

ASSUMPTIONS AND EXCLUSIONS 

This paper focusses on the provision of female escort services, offered directly or through an agency –male escort provision is not reviewed (Argento, Taylor, Jollimore, Taylor, Jennex, Krusi & Shannon, 2016). No examination of the nature of these services is conducted, although a distinction is drawn between those activities deemed to be legal and illegal (Jeffreys, 2010). In taking a broader, more international perspective it is important to recognise that different national approaches will exist which means that in some cases the provision of sexual services is considered legal (Outshoorn, 2004). However, legal recognition does not necessarily translate into social and cultural acceptance for either the client or the escort worker(s) concerned (Agustin, 2009). 

The demand for escort services, be they legal or illegal and with or without a sexual element is well established (Burghart, 2017). This paper therefore does not consider the perspective of clients but instead focusses on the issues shaping the actions and decisions of those women acting as escorts (Matthews, 2007). 

THE EMPOWERMENT CASE 

For women that choose to work as escorts, arguments have been presented which suggest that doing so provides them with a position of power and authority over their clients (Weitzer, 2007). They work in a sector that puts a particular value on their skills, abilities and attributes and the woman is able to direct and control to what extent she places herself ‘on the market’ e.g. whether to engage in sexual activity or not and if so, what those acts will be (Cho, Dreher & Neumeyer, 2013). Whilst many services are engaged through a broker (the Escort Agency) which will take a fee for their involvement, charges for any additional activities are often arranged on a direct basis between the escort and the client (Laskowski, 2002). 

However, such empowerment arguments assume that the woman concerned is operating within the realms of an established business framework which she can adapt to her own requirements (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2017). They also imply that the women has exercised free will and choice in becoming an escort and that no coercion has been applied, such as that seen in many cases of people trafficking (O’Connor, 2017). Even where no overt coercion has been applied, women may feel that working as an escort is the only viable option given issues such as social/economic deprivation, personal addiction issues and unstable family backgrounds (Scoular & O’Neill, 2007). 

Consequently, any empowerment arguments presented must clearly consider the foundations underlying any perceptions of informed choice (Jeffreys, 2010). Even where such factors are not an issue (such as those women from A or B socio-economic groups with high net-worth clients), the social and cultural stigma around escort services can limit the extent to which women are truly empowered (Szirmai, 2015).  

THE SOCIAL PERSPECTIVE 

Many women working as escorts see themselves as offering an essential social service to their communities, supporting clients through periods of disruption and turbulence (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2017). Examples cited include widowers seeking company (or even sexual services) without wishing to enter into another emotional relationship and those coping with the breakdown of a long-term relationship seeking guidance on how to re-engage effectively with women (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2017). Whilst engaging vulnerable clients seeking emotional rather than physical support could be considered exploitative, competition within the sector could ensure that clients favour those women best able to meet the needs presented (Koken, 2010). 

Legislative and social constraints do limit the effectiveness of such support given the stigma often associated with engaging escorts, even if no sexual content is involved (Koken, 2010). It could also be argued that the dominant focus on meeting physical/sexual requirements in the sector creates longer-term social problems, as the clients concerned are often unable to form stable, emotionally sound long-term relationships as a result (Weitzer, 2007). Those clients that regularly use escort services to meet both their physical and emotional needs may end up seeking to apply the same transactional thinking to external relationships, inadvertently undermining the status of women in that community (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2017). 

Where female workers are genuinely empowered, then social benefits can accrue. For example, the working hours involved and the income levels that can be sustained may allow them to remain both employed and effective, accessible parents when they may otherwise be relying on state support (Brooks-Gordon, 2006). However, the hidden and illegal nature of much of the escort sector economy limits social benefit potential (e.g. undeclared incomes and welfare concerns for the children of sex workers) (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2017).   

THE ECONOMIC RATIONALE 

Many escort agencies operate as legitimate business interests, generating tax revenues and providing either paid employment or self-employment frameworks for the women concerned (UK National Escorts Association, 2018). The value proposition is on the provision of a booking service for time and companionship with women (UK National Escorts Association, 2018). It is the subsequent transactions between clients and those women which may or may not be legal and which may not necessarily form part of any transparent business activity which raise concerns (Matthews, 2007). Whilst the nature of business registration in the UK makes it difficult to identify tax revenues specifically attributed to escort agencies (which often register as entertainment services), it is estimated that prostitution (i.e. unregulated and untaxed activity) in that country sustains a spend of around £770M each year (BBC, 2001; UK National Escorts Association, 2018).  

Women working in the sector may therefore have the ability to generate and sustain incomes that their educational and social backgrounds would deny them in terms of more traditional employment routes (Weitzer, 2007). As such, depending on the legal and regulatory frameworks in place, they may be net financial contributors to society rather than a drain on national resources (Laskowski, 2007). However, such arguments are predicated on the concept of choice and empowerment as those women working in the sector to sustain addiction problems will still place greater demands on health and social welfare services (Rani, Jain & Saxena, 2017). Also, the exploitation that exists in the sector through organised criminal activities (arguably fuelled by legislative and societal constraints around sex workers) means that significant escort revenues remain invisible to the national exchequers concerned (Sweeney & Fitzgerald, 2017). Also, these hidden revenues can fund activities which create significant economic and social costs for the countries concerned (e.g. the drugs trade, money laundering and criminal violence) (O’Connor, 2017).  

POLITICAL ISSUES 

Political attitudes surrounding escort services are shaped by national/regional cultures, societal expectations and the legislative frameworks that result (Outshoorn, 2004). As a consequence, in many societies the political leadership prefer to maintain a discrete distance from the sector, rather than engage in open debate about the role of women as escorts (Brooks-Gordon, 2006). Whilst more enlightened attitudes are emerging, such as the operating of licenced establishments with Government health monitoring programmes and social support, anything outside of non-sexual escort activity is still considered illegal in many areas (Agustin, 2009). This limits the political support for women in the sector to focussing on applying criminal sanctions to clients rather than workers and/or the development of social programmes to encourage them to explore alternative employment options (Cho, Dreher & Neumeyer, 2013). 

As a consequence, many women working as escorts (employed and self-employed) are denied a legitimate political voice within their societies (Outshoorn, 2004). This again calls into question the concept of empowerment, as it is difficult for the women concerned to influence decision-makers about their working conditions, rates of pay and employment rights (Bartlett & Kennedy, 2018). This lack of power and influence has led to these women becoming even more isolated from (and controlled by) mainstream society as their roles and life choices are debated and regulated by others (Outshoorn, 2004). 

THE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY 

The advent of modern technology solutions, particularly social networking platforms has provided women with a means to directly access the market for escort services (Heymann-Reder, 2012). The ease with which websites can be created and the willingness of consumers to provide (anonymous) feedback in relation to the services received can negate the need to use agency resources to source, screen and support clients (Tuten & Solomon, 2014). This also extends to payment services which further supports women working in the sector in establishing a viable, self-managed business model (Henry, 2011). Such approaches mirror the growth in self-employment opportunities for women in the service sector, where on-line demand for associated skills such as massage and male grooming services can provide a conduit for the marketing of escort activities (Cader & Al Tenaiji, 2013). 

However, technology developments also expose workers to greater risk (Sanders, O’Neill & Pitcher, 2017). The absence of any third-party, escort agency involvement means that women may find themselves alone when coping with an aggressive client or one unwilling to pay for the services received (Jeffreys, 2010). It also introduces a new skills requirement as those pursuing such technology solutions will need to effectively manage and deploy the technology in order to build a sustainable business (Heymann-Reder, 2012).  

LEGAL CONCERNS 

Whilst those operating escort services as a legitimate business model are afforded the same legal protections as the wider society concerned, often the provision of sexual services falls outside of such frameworks (Cho, Dreher & Neumeyer, 2013). Consequently, the women involved are committing criminal acts even though they are meeting a demand that society is aware of and which addresses a clear social need (Jeffreys, 2010). This means that when such women require the full protection of law – for example, if assaulted by a client – the very nature of their profession often means that they are denied that support (Bartlett & Kennedy, 2018). The level of violence and associated criminal activity in the sector is therefore well known, but chronically under-reported by those that experience it (O’Connor, 2017). This lack of visibility also undermines efforts to extend legal protection to escorts and the ability of enforcement officials to prosecute offenders (Scoular & O’Neill, 2007). 

For those women who have fallen into escort work due to social, health and addiction issues limiting the employment choices available to them, the more sympathetic application of legal sanctions in some countries is beginning to provide them with the support required (Agustin, 2009). Viewing such women as being vulnerable and exploited ensures that they are seen in a different light by state institutions, helping them to move out of escort work if their continued involvement undermines their self-worth, health and social status (Reitmeijer, 2017). 

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION 

Basic economic theory dictates that women will continue to provide escort services for the foreseeable future. There is a constant (potentially expanding) demand, technology advances make it easier for consumers to express that demand clearly and for suppliers to efficiently tailor their services to the requirements of distinct customer communities (Henry, 2011; Burghart, 2017). Consequently, a dynamic and competitive market exists (and has always existed) irrespective of the behavioural and cultural norms outlined by the societies concerned. 

If this proposition is accepted, then it is argued that current attitudes, reflected in the legal frameworks of many nations are discriminatory and punitive to women (Bartlett & Kennedy, 2018). They limit the protection that can be offered and expose women to greater risks (including sexual health concerns). Critically, making female sex work an illegal and unregistered activity allows criminal entities to control their access to the market (O’Connor, 2017). Such control disempowers women when they should be shaping their operating environment to meet their own requirements and aspirations (Koken, 2010). Criminal exploitation and the legal frameworks that unintentionally support it also create opportunities to force women to work unwillingly as escorts (Sweeney & Fitzgerald, 2017). 

Technology advances are giving those women that choose to work as escorts the opportunity to exert greater control. However, this needs to be matched by a more realistic and progressive attitude within societies around issues such as regulation, health screening and support services if women escorts are to be truly protected and empowered.Page Break 

REFERENCES 

Agustin, L. (2009). Sex and the limits of enlightenment: the irrationality of legal regimes to control prostitution, Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 5(4), pp. 73-86. 

Argento, E., Taylor, M., Jollimore, J., Taylor, C., Jennex, J., Krusi, A., Shannon, K. (2016). The loss of boystown and transition to online sex work:  Strategies and barriers to increase safety among men sex workers and clients of men, American Journal Men’s Health, pp. 1-19. 

Bartlett, K.T., Kennedy, R. (2018). Feminist Legal Theory: Readings in Law and Gender, Abingdon: Routledge. 

BBC. (2001). Prostitution: Should it be legalised? [Online], Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/1271865.stm  [20 February, 2018]. 

Brooks-Gordon, B. (2006). The Price of Sex: Prostitution, Policy and Society, Collumpton: Willan Publishing. 

Burghart, K.O. (2017). What’s on sale? A discourse analysis of four distinct escort advertisement websites, Sexuality and Culture, 22(1), pp. 316-335. 

Cader, Y., Al Tenaiji, A. A. (2013). Social media marketing. International Journal of Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 2(6), pp. 546-560. 

Cho, S-Y., Dreher, A., Neumeyer, E. (2013). Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking? World Development, 41, pp. 67-82. 

Henry, A.E. (2011). Understanding Strategic Management, 2nd Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Heymann-Reder, D. (2012). Social Media Marketing. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Verlag. 

Jeffreys, S. (2010). “Brothels without Walls”: the Escort Sector as a Problem for the Legalization of Prostitution, Social Politics, 17(2), pp. 210-234. 

Koken, J. (2010). Independent Female Escort’s Strategies for Coping with Sex Work Related Stigma, Sexuality and Culture, 16(3), pp. 209-229. 

Laskowski, S.R. (2002). The New German Prostitution Act: An Important Step to a More Rational View of Prostitution as an Ordinary Profession in Accordance with European Community Law, International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, 18(4), pp. 479-491. 

Matthews, R. (2007). The Prostitution Strategy: A Response, Safer Communities, 6(3), pp. 4-6. 

O’Connor, M. (2017). Choice, agency consent and coercion: Complex issues in the lives of prostituted and trafficked women, Women’s Studies International Forum, 62, pp. 8-16. 

Outshoorn, J. (2004). The Politics of Prostitution: Women's Movements, Democratic States and the Globalisation of Sex Commerce, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Rani, P., Jain, D., Saxena, V.P. (2017). Stability Analysis of HIV/AIDS Transmission with Treatment and Role of Female Sex Workers, International Journal of Nonlinear Sciences and Numerical Simulation, 18(6), pp. 457-467. 

Reitmeijer, C.A. (2017). Opinion: The Goose and the Gander – Sexually Transmitted Infection/HIV Prevention and the Adult Entertainment Industry, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 44(3), pp. 187-188. 

Sanders, T., O’Neill, M., Pitcher, J. (2017). Prostitution: Sex Work, Policy & Politics, 2nd Edition, London: Sage Publications Ltd. 

Scoular, J., O’Neill, M. (2007). Regulating Prostitution, The British Journal of Criminology, 47(5), pp. 764-778. 

Sweeney, L-A., Fitzgerald, S. (2017). A case for a health promotion framework: the psychosocial experiences of female migrant sex workers in Ireland, International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, 13(4), pp. 419-431. 

Szirmai, A. (2015). Socio-Economic Development, 2nd Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Tuten, T. L., Solomon, M. R. (2014). Social media marketing. California: Sage. 

UK National Escorts Association. (2018). How to run a lucrative escort service. [Online], Available:  

http://www.uknationalescortsassociation.co.uk/articles/how_to_run_a_lucrative_escort_service_152.html  [20 February, 2018]. 

Weitzer, R. (2007). Prostitution as a Form of Work, Sociology Compass, 1(1), pp. 143-155. 


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