Streamlining cock tax, Uber style app launched for hookers

The Economist reports on the launch of a new app in Germany to streamline bookings and haggling of prices with hookers.

FOR those seeking commercial sex in Berlin, Peppr, a new app, makes life easy. Type in a location and up pops a list of the nearest prostitutes, along with pictures, prices and physical particulars. Results can be filtered, and users can arrange a session for a €5-10 ($6.50-13) booking fee. It plans to expand to more cities.

Peppr can operate openly since prostitution, and the advertising of prostitution, are both legal in Germany. But even where they are not, the internet is transforming the sex trade. Prostitutes and punters have always struggled to find each other, and to find out what they want to know before pairing off. Phone-box “tart cards” for blonde bombshells and leggy señoritas could only catch so many eyes. Customers knew little about the nature and quality of the services on offer. Personal recommendations, though helpful, were awkward to come by. Sex workers did not know what risks they were taking on with clients.

Now specialist websites and apps are allowing information to flow between buyer and seller, making it easier to strike mutually satisfactory deals. The sex trade is becoming easier to enter and safer to work in: prostitutes can warn each other about violent clients, and do background and health checks before taking a booking. Personal web pages allow them to advertise and arrange meetings online; their clients’ feedback on review sites helps others to proceed with confidence.

Even in places such as America, where prostitution and its facilitation are illegal everywhere except Nevada, the marketing and arrangement of commercial sex is moving online. To get round the laws, web servers are placed abroad; site-owners and users hide behind pseudonyms; and prominently placed legalese frames the purpose of sites as “entertainment” and their content as “fiction”.

The shift online is casting light on parts of the sex industry that have long lurked in the shadows. Streetwalkers have always attracted the lion’s share of attention from policymakers and researchers because they ply their trade in public places. They are more bothersome for everyone else—and, because they are the most vulnerable, more likely to come to the attention of the police and of social or health workers. But in many rich countries they are a minority of all sex workers; just 10-20% in America, estimates Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University.

This could easily solve Papatoetoe’s problem with street walkers.  

There are other sites as well assisting punters find their preferences.

The wealth of data available online means it is now possible to analyse this larger and less examined part of the commercial-sex market: prostitution that happens indoors. It turns out to be surprisingly similar to other service industries. Prostitutes’ personal characteristics and the services they offer influence the prices they charge; niche services attract a premium; and the internet is making it easier to work flexible hours and to forgo a middleman.

Websites such as AdultWork allow prostitutes, both those working independently and those who work through agencies and brothels, to create profiles through which customers can contact them. They can upload detailed information about themselves, the range of services they provide, and the rates they charge. Clients can browse by age, bust or dress size, ethnicity, sexual orientation or location.

Other websites garner information from clients, who upload reviews of the prostitutes they have visited with details of the services offered, prices paid and descriptions of the encounters. On PunterNet, a British site, clients describe the premises, the encounter and the sex worker, and choose whether to recommend her. Such write-ups have enabled her to build a personal brand, says one English escort, Michelle (like many names in this article, a pseudonym), and to attract the clients most likely to appreciate what she offers.

There is a catch though…for the hookers…prices are dropping as punters seek bargain blowies.

The most striking trend our analysis reveals is a drop in the average hourly rate of a prostitute in recent years (see chart 1). One reason is surely the downturn that followed the 2007-08 financial crisis. Even prostitutes working in places that escaped the worst effects have been hit. Vanessa, a part-time escort in southern England, finds that weeks can go by without her phone ringing. Men see buying sex as a luxury, she says, and with the price of necessities rising it is one they are cutting back on. Even when she offers discounts to whip up interest, clients are scarcer than they were. In places where the job market slumped, the effect is more marked (whether prostitution is legal may affect prices, too, but the wide variation between American cities shows that this is not the only factor). The cost of an hour with an escort in Cleveland, Ohio, where unemployment peaked at 12.5% in 2010, has tumbled.

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And those damn immigrants are elbowing local hookers out of the market too, dropping their knickers for much less than the local whores.

Large-scale migration is another reason prices are falling. Big, rich cities are magnets for immigrants of all professions, including sex workers. Nick Mai of London Metropolitan University has studied foreign sex workers in Britain. He has found that as they integrate and get used to the local cost-of-living, their rates tend to rise. But where the inward flow is unceasing, or where the market was previously very closed, immigrants can push prices down.

Since the European Union enlarged to include poorer eastern European countries, workers of every sort have poured into their richer neighbours. By all accounts prices have been dropping in Germany as a result of the arrival of new, poor migrants, says Rebecca Pates of the University of Leipzig. Sally, a semi-retired British escort who runs a flat in the west of England where a few “mature” women sell sex, says English girls are struggling to find work: there are too many eastern European ones willing to accept less.

Twenty years ago most prostitutes in Norway were locals who all aimed to charge about the same, says May-Len Skilbrei, a sociologist at Oslo University. Today, with growing numbers of sex workers from the Baltic states and central Europe, as well as Nigerians and Thais, such unofficial price controls are harder to sustain.

But niche is best for earning potential.

Our analysis shows how a prostitute’s hourly rate varies according to the nature of the services she provides and her reported physical characteristics. As in other bits of the economy, clients who seek niche services must pay more. Sex workers who offer anal sex or spanking earn on average $25 or $50 more per hour, respectively. Those who will accept two male clients at once or do threesomes with another woman command a larger premium.

And of course appearance.

Appearance matters a great deal. The customers who reported encounters to the website we analysed clearly value the stereotypical features of Western beauty: women they describe as slim but not scrawny, or as having long blonde hair or full breasts, can charge the highest hourly rates (see chart 3). Hair that is bleached too unconvincingly to be described as blonde attracts a lower premium, but is still more marketable than any other colour. For those not naturally well endowed, breast implants may make economic sense: going from flat-chested to a D-cup increases hourly rates by approximately $40, meaning that at a typical price of $3,700, surgery could pay for itself after around 90 hours. The 12% share of women featured on the site who are described both as athletic, slim or thin, and as being at least a D-cup, suggests that quite a few have already taken this route.

But here is the bite…or benefit of technology…lack of government over-sight and control.

That shift will make the sex industry harder for all governments to control or regulate, whether they seek to do so for pragmatic or moralistic reasons, or out of concern that not all those in the industry are there by their own free will. Buyers and sellers of sex who strike deals online are better hidden and more mobile than those who work in brothels, or from clubs or bars, points out Professor Weitzer of George Washington University. Ireland has banned the advertising of sexual services since 1994. The prohibition has achieved almost nothing, says Graham Ellison, a sociologist at Queen’s University in Belfast. Websites simply moved to other jurisdictions. The closure of those such as MyRedBook may prompt American ones to do the same; as they grow more specialised, the excuse that they merely host classified advertisements is wearing thin.

In the long term there will always be people who, for whatever reason, want to hire a prostitute rather than do without sex or pick up a partner in a bar. As paid-for sex becomes more readily and discreetly available online, more people will buy it. A greater awareness may develop that not all sex workers are the victims of exploitation. The very discretion—and the hidden nature of such prostitution—may also mean that the stigma persists. But, overall, sex workers will profit. The internet has disrupted many industries. The oldest one is no exception.

 

– The Economist

 


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  • conwaycaptain

    Pity the Nasty Lollie Stealer is no longer and MP this would be right up her (insert suitable word)

    • Rick H

      She’s never ever been a real MP.
      never won the vote anywhere.
      She’s a nobody.

  • Wallace Westland

    Finally! A useful App. hehehee *DUCKS* and goes to his corner (with a beer)

  • Martin

    Amazing how consistent market forces are: you earn twice as much additional cash whipping people than you do taking it up the butt. And people question why management are so well paid relative to workers.

  • ozbob68

    I am a single male with a relatively large income, I will investigate this issue thoroughly and report back :)

  • Aucky

    A cursory check of European websites tends to reinforce much of what has been claimed. The Danish sites are hot & somewhat descriptive!

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