Jump to content

Internet prostitution

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Internet has become one of the preferred methods of communication for prostitution, as clients and prostitutes are less vulnerable to arrest or assault and for its convenience.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

Origins of Internet advertising[edit]

During the latter half of the twentieth century, most off-street prostitution was advertised locally using personal advertisements in the printed press or postcards in the windows of commercial premises such as newsagent's shops. As direct references to prostitution were not acceptable, the advertisements were carefully worded with euphemistic terms such as large chest for sale.[8] In larger cities, tart cards were placed in telephone boxes.[9]

By the year 2000, the Internet, and access to it had grown large enough for some in the sex industry to see it as a marketing tool. As use of the Internet has subsequently grown, so has the use of it by the sex industry.[5]

In 2007 Harriet Harman, then Minister for Women in the UK, put pressure on the Newspaper Society, the trade body representing local newspapers, not to carry advertisements for sexual services. As a result, the society updated its guidelines for members in 2008, effectively banning such advertisements.[10] As the majority of local newspapers were members, this ban increased the move towards Internet advertising.

Mobile devices such as smartphones have further increased the use of the Internet both generally and for prostitution websites.[11]

In the Netherlands, the Internet had grown in importance by the mid 2010s as a platform for recruiting prostitutes' clients, with escort workers advertising their mobile telephone numbers online.[12]

Types of websites[edit]

Listing sites[edit]

There has been a rise in the number of escort/prostitution listing websites, that advertise for both independent and agency escorts. Some are free, while others charge to add a listing. Others are free for a basic listing but charge for some additional features.[5] A notable example is the website The Erotic Review.


Forums were amongst the first sites to be used by escorts. With the rise of other social media, their use has declined.

Personal websites[edit]

It has become simple and easy for independent escorts to create a personal website for the purposes of advertising their prostitution services.


A number of sites have a section where clients can leave reviews for escorts.[5] Some outside the industry regard this as degrading to the escort;[13] however, most involved in the industry do not share this view.

The practice of posting online reviews of escorts dates back to 1999 when The Erotic Review, a review site that allows customers to rate their experiences with sex workers, was created.[14]

Punternet was originally the foremost review site despite adverse publicity from Harriet Harman[13][15] and Vera Baird[16] (see below). In recent years, Adultwork has had a larger number of reviews posted. UK Punting, founded in 2010, is a sex worker review website which only includes client comments and has no input from sex workers.[17]

Books reviewing the providers of sexual services in the United Kingdom have been published by George McCoy since 1996[18] and by 2013 McCoy was running a website reviewing over 5,000 massage parlours and individuals.[19]


A feature of some early websites, particularly forums, were sections where safety warnings could be posted about dangerous clients, referred to as "dodgy punters" (and to a lesser degree, bad escorts).

As these warnings were spread over about a dozen websites, the process of keeping up to date with the information in them could be time-consuming. In 2006, talks took place in the industry about setting up a centralised warning website that would be automatically updated from the existing websites by RSS feeds. It was agreed that a newly created website, Saafe, would carry the centralised warnings.[20] The new website launched in January 2007. However, the centralised warnings did not work as well as envisaged and the project was discontinued in 2010.

In December 2011, Lynne Featherstone, then Equalities Minister, announced the Home Office would provide £108,000 to establish a national online network to collate and distribute information between schemes that allow sex workers to report violent incidents, known as "Ugly Mugs" schemes.[21] This money was to fund a 12-month pilot scheme run by UK Network of Sex Work Projects (UKNSWP).[22]

On 6 July 2012, the National Ugly Mugs Pilot Scheme was launched.[23][24] The scheme was a success and continued after the 12-month pilot period.[5][25]

Social media[edit]

Since the rise of social media, escorts and escort agencies have used sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote their services.[26] Because of its more relaxed guidelines, Twitter is the most popular.[27] With the rise of social media as a means of communication, the use of forums by sex workers and their clients has fallen.

Online payments[edit]

The rise of online payment systems have enabled escorts and agencies to take payments for services. When PayPal first started in 2001, escorts were amongst their first customers.[28] PayPal subsequently changed its policies and no longer allows escorts to use the system.[28]

In 2013, escort agency Passion VIP of Birmingham, England became the first agency to accept the virtual currency Bitcoin.[28][29]



In 2009 Harriet Harman asked the then governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger to close down the Punternet website. She said that it was increasing the demand for prostitution in the UK, an activity which she described as degrading to women and which she said was putting them at risk.[13][15] Punternet is hosted in California, despite being a review site for prostitution in the UK. Harman's actions did not result in the website being closed down; instead it received an increase in traffic due to the publicity generated. The website owners thanked Harman for the increase in business.[16][30][31]

In January 2010 at a Westminster Hall debate on Violence against Women, then Solicitor General Vera Baird again called for the site to be taken down.[16]

In 2018 Trishna Datta, an outreach worker from Ilford, Essex, launched a petition to have the Punternet website taken down. She said that website lacked adequate safety measures to ensure details which could put sex workers in danger were not revealed. Additionally she expressed concern that some of the sex workers reviewed on the site might be underage or victims of trafficking or sexual assault. Punternet commented that they would report underage prostitutes to the authorities, and that they encourage customers to report underage prostitutes and victims of trafficking to Crimestoppers UK.[32][33]

Bogus escort agencies scam[edit]

In 2010, Suffolk Trading standards started Operation Troy, targeting bogus online escort agencies. These agencies promised large earnings in an effort to recruit escorts. A registration fee was charged to those wanting to join, but no work materialised.[34]

In July 2013, six members of the gang running this scam were jailed; the leader, Toni Muldoon, for seven and a half years. It was estimated the scam netted £5.7m from 14,000 victims.[35]


AdultWork is a UK website which allows sex workers to specify the services they provide before being booked for a job. The site is funded by sex workers, who pay to have their profiles displayed.[17] In February 2014, an unnamed Northern Irish woman successfully sued the website for unauthorised use of intimate photographs of herself. She was awarded £28,000 damages.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sex Industry Study: Internet Is Driving Prostitution Off Streets". NBC News. (12 March 2014)
  2. ^ Richtel, Matt (17 June 2008). "Sex Trade Monitors a Key Figure's Woes". The New York Times.
  3. ^ "A consumer guide to prostitutes is a click away". NBC News. 20 January 2006. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
  4. ^ "Several comfortable steps ahead of the law". NBC News. 20 January 2006. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e More bang for your buck The Economist 9 August 2014
  6. ^ Study finds prostitution now a career choice for many women in Wales Wales Online 19 June 2011
  7. ^ Prostitution in Scotland moves from the streets to the internet Daily Record 15 March 2010
  8. ^ Villains' Paradise: Britain's Underworld from the Spivs to the Krays Donald Thomas
  9. ^ "Crackdown on telephone box 'tartcards'". PA News. 16 May 1999.
  10. ^ Shun sex ads, local papers urged BBC 11 February 2008
  11. ^ How do we use the Internet and mobile devices in 2014? EConsultancy 7 August 2014
  12. ^ Wagenaar, Hendrik; Amesberger, Helga; Altink, Sietske (2017). Designing Prostitution Policy: Intention and Reality in Regulating the Sex Trade. Policy Press. p. 113 & 274. ISBN 9781447324249.
  13. ^ a b c Arnold Schwarzenegger told by Harriet Harman to shut prostitute website Daily Telegraph 30 September 2009
  14. ^ Keegan Hamilton (4 June 2008). "OldestProfession2.0: A new generation of local "providers" and "hobbyists" create a virtual red-light district". River Front Times.
  15. ^ a b Ambrogi, Stefano (1 October 2009). "Schwarzenegger asked to close prostitute Website". Reuters. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  16. ^ a b c Solicitor General takes fresh pop at PunterNet The Register 26 January 2010
  17. ^ a b Sophie Wilkinson (21 April 2017). "Inside 'UK Punting' – The TripAdvisor of Sex Workers". Vice. Retrieved 4 January 2018.
  18. ^ Sarah Hamilton (15 July 2014). "The not-so-coy guide to working girls in the South East". Get Reading.
  19. ^ "Sex doesn't sell". The Economist. 25 May 2013.
  20. ^ "Latest entries of the industry warnings board". Support And Advice For Escorts. Archived from the original on 8 February 2007.
  21. ^ Pilot to improve safety of workers Home Office Published 17 December 2011
  22. ^ Feis-Bryce, Alex (14 August 2012). "National Ugly Mugs Scheme - Protecting Sex Workers From Predators". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  23. ^ Sex workers and police join forces to create rapist database The Guardian 5 July 2012
  24. ^ National Ugly Mugs Pilot Scheme Is Now Live UKNSWP
  25. ^ 'Ugly Mugs' receives funding London Live
  26. ^ Prostitutes advertising on Facebook and Twitter Daily Telegraph 30 January 2013
  27. ^ Twitter's Not Unique As A Marketplace For Prostitution Forbes 30 January 2014
  28. ^ a b c Online payments and prostitution: How the internet is transforming the oldest profession TNW Blog 26 July 2014
  29. ^ World's First Escort Agency To Accept Bitcoins? PressKing 11 September 2013
  30. ^ "PunterNet thanks Harriet for massive upswing". The Register. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  31. ^ Taylor, Jerome (2 October 2009). "Punter Net prostitutes thank Harriet Harman for publicity boost". The Independent. London. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  32. ^ Martine Berg Olsen (4 October 2018). "There's a vile website that lets people review prostitutes and 'victims of trafficking'". Metro.
  33. ^ Ellena Cruse (3 October 2018). "'Prostitute Tripadvisor': Campaign to close down website in which punters rate and review Ilford, Goodmayes and South Woodford sex workers". Ilford Recorder.
  34. ^ Operation Troy Suffolk Trading Standards Suffolk Trading Standards Official Blog 3 November 2010
  35. ^ Toni Muldoon and £5.7m escort scam gang members jailed BBC 12 July 2013
  36. ^ Woman wins £28k payout over snaps posted on sex site Belfast Telegraph 15 February 2014

External links[edit]