By Karolyn Coorsh
Jenn Angel’s first day at her new job was as tentative and nerve-wracking as a first date.
In fact, that’s exactly what it was.
Four years ago, Angel was living in Kingston, Ont. And attending high school when she decided to earn some fast cash by working for an escort agency. “I had friends who did it. They said the money was good.”
Before meeting up with her first client, who was in his thirties, at his hotel room, the then 18-year-old was “nervous as sin.”
“[But it was a really nice dinner … in an expensive restaurant and we managed to converse all through dinner. He treated me like an old friend,” says Angel, who won’t confess whether or not she slept with him on her first night at the job.
Angel, 22, is one of many university and college students paying for their tuition by working in the sex industry. And when sex becomes a commodity, there is money to be made. Most escort services charge between $200-$300 an hour, a wage that cash-strapped students will not find working at the local Starbucks.
An aviation management student at Georgian College, Angel divides her time between going to school in Barrie, Ont. And working as an independent escort in Toronto. She charges up to $250 and hour, or $600 for three continuous hours of her company. For international clients, rates are negotiable. And for those looking to catch Angel’s full-figured body on camera, the viewing price is a hefty $500.
Agencies and escorts have a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ approach to the business. The student escort attracts men solely on the basis of her youthful look, and the agency sets up the appointments.
Tom, owner of Toronto escort agencies Executive Choice and Catchet Ladies, says men prefer students who look young — as young as possible in many cases.
A buxom 5-foot-10 and 200 lbs, Angel commands attention in a room. Her curly blonde hair flows around her face, dotted with both a nose and tongue piercing.
“everybody says I have a pretty face and everybody says I have great tits,” says Angel, who doesn’t know many women who share her G-40 bra size.
Angel has no pretences about the unorthodox business she is involved in. Nor is she overtly secretive about what she does, except when it may involve hurting others. As an escort, she maintains the utmost respect for her clients. “I’m sorry, but no matter what I say or do, my client’s discretion is involved. They pay me to be discreet and not screw it up for them,” says Angel, who bears the responsibility of soliciting those clients by herself.
Angel went solo last January because the agency she was working for wasn’t giving her enough clients. While soliciting clients independent of an agency gives escorts the ability to be their own boss, the baggage that comes with marketing themselves is often a lot of trouble for students with limited time.
“When you’re an independent, you do it all yourself, there’s nobody else there. If you don’t have the bookings coming in off your ads … that’s your own problem,” says Angel, who relies on her website to attract clients.
In recent years, the sex industry has created a culture that thrives on the web. A sex-seeker only has to type in the word ‘escort’ and the name of the city he lives in and hundreds of websites and directories pop up. More than a few offer university students for an intimate evening. Angel, like many others, has no problem calling herself a student in the bio on her web page.
The actual number of women who work in the sex trade is hard to determine. Women who work temporarily as escorts, such as students, don’t necessarily identify themselves as being sex workers, says Maurganne Mooney, an outreach coordinator for Maggie’s, a Toronto-based advocacy group for sex workers. “They may go in and out of sex work throughout their education.”
Anonymity is another statistical loophole in the industry, because not only are women afraid to identify themselves as sex workers for fear of legal issues, but also because of the stigma attached to the job.
Angel gets the “heebeegeebees” when she thinks of all the men she has slept with since she started escorting.
But some women reject the idea that sex workers are victims, says Mooney, who has been as escort for almost a year.
“As a pro-sex worker, I could wrap my head around the idea of women making money by having sex empowering.” Rather than work exploitive hours and earn minimum wage, Mooney says she can work half an hour and earn over $100.
Considering the amount of time and money that students commit to pay for tuition, attend classes and do homework, Mooney says she understands why many rely on escorting to pay the bills.
Requiring a fraction of the time to earn large quantities of cash, “sex work is the highest paying work available to women,” she says.
But while the cash rewards or working in the sex industry may seem appealing, the job also has its drawbacks.
The dangers of escorting come with the territory. Angel once left her house to have a cigarette only to find a past client looking for her outside. He has lost her phone number and vaguely remembered where she was living. “I freaked out. I told him to get the fuck away from the house. He just left, but it could have been a lot worse.”
Strange men aren’t the only thing that escorts have to worry about. Corey Green, a sexual health educator at Ryerson’s AIDS education project, says the dangers an escort may face are the same for anyone who is sexually active. But earning a living in the sex trade means having more sexual contact with strangers — a precarious combination.
“One of the major risk factors associated with HIV and AIDS or various STDs is frequency,” says Green. Another gamble is the chance of physical violence. “Sexual assault is obviously a big possibility in that kind of context.”
Although the AIDS education project is aimed at all students, it has a lot of relevance to the sex trade and students who work in it, says Green. It raises the issue of the need for financial assistance for students who may rely on escorting as a desperate means to make money.
“I think [an escort] is a glamourized prostitute,” says Annette Di Marco, a first-year radio and television arts student. “I don’t want to sell my body and I don’t think anyone else should have to either.”
“I don’t think it reflects very well later on if someone finds out, if you’re going into some profession where you’re going to be in the public eye and someone finds out, not everyone is going to take it in a positive way.”
Di Marco, who is looking for a job in retail right now but gets financial help from her parents, would never work as an escort if it means having to sleep with the client. “If I had to be horizontal with them, it’s just not happening.”
A popular misconception is that every ‘John client’ just wants a nice piece of flesh, when some are only looking for a good listening ear and some decent dinner conversation. Angel says her clients sometimes even talk to her about their wives.
“I’m good at what I do. We’re sitting here having a conversation, right? I haven’t let the conversation drop …” says Angel.
People are often surprised at Angel’s intellectual level. “My favourite quote and I’ve heard over and over again; ‘You’re really intelligent, why do you do this?’” Her answer: “Because I’m really intelligent and I’m not stupid enough to give it away.”
Angel is also an avid web surfer and maintains her personal web page. Being computer literate is a necessary tool for her profession.
Angel plans to quit escorting in three years, but she’s not sure if she’ll end up working in the aviation industry after all.
These days, Angel is single. Relationships can become a tricky problem for escorts. “I can’t have a personal relationship. Men don’t date women like me.”
Angel often finds that men only want a relationship with her because they think “she’s a good lay” or because she has money. But the bigger problem is that most men don’t want to date someone who has sex for money.
“I can’t date someone that has any hang ups about the industry,” she says.