By Stephen T. Watson
As visitors to her Web site can see, Cindeee is eager to please the right kind of gentleman. The Buffalo-area escort has a sophisticated Internet home, offering photos of her in skimpy lingerie and a rich description of what she offers customers.
The site even boasts a list of her prices, an interactive schedule of her future availability and links to reviews from clients.
“I will provide for you a unique, unforgettable experience – whether it may be a simple dinner date, a night on the town or just some discreet private time together,” Cindeee writes.
As Cindeee’s fans already know, prostitution today has moved from the street corner to the World Wide Web.
Now, prostitutes are setting up their own Web sites, advertising through national sites such as Escorts.com or through classified ads on craigslist. “Back in the day, prostitutes used to have to walk up and down the street. I don’t do that,” said a 26-year-old Town of Tonawanda woman who advertises her services online.
She was one of a dozen current and former escorts, an operator of an escort service, detectives, lawyers and others familiar with the industry interviewed by The Buffalo News. Several spoke about their work only on condition they not be named.
Some escort Web sites spell out in detail what a customer can expect to receive. But many walk a legal tightrope, promising pleasure without explicitly offering sex for money.
The Internet has been a boon for the women, taking the sex trade underground and out of plain sight. It’s also easier for their customers, who can find a wide selection of women whenever they wish from the comfort and safety of their home.
“It’s more discreet. They don’t have to drive through the seedy part of town looking for a woman standing on a street corner,” said Larry Dombrowski, chief detective with the Erie County (Pa.) district attorney’s office, which recently led a Web-based sex-for- pay sting.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the world’s oldest profession and the Internet would converge.
“Certainly that tie between sex and technology has always been there,” said Alex Halavais, an assistant professor of communication at Quinnipiac University who once taught a “Cyberporn and Society” class at the University at Buffalo.
>VHS versus Betamax
In ancient Pompeii, he noted, frescoes played that role: Many of the erotic drawings from that time were ads for prostitutes.
More recently, the VHS format for videocassette recorders beat out Betamax in part because the porn industry backed VHS, Halavais noted, and cybersex has flourished as a result of video file- sharing, Webcams and other advances.
Not everything has changed in prostitution. Street walkers still ply their trade on Niagara Street on Buffalo’s West Side, on Broadway and Walden Avenue on the East Side, and in Niagara Falls, observers said.
Escorts, however, typically are contacted by phone, through an ad in a free newspaper or the phone book. They also can be choosier about their clients.
They charge more than street walkers and usually meet their clients at a hotel room rented by the customer or the escort.
“Sometimes it makes me sick how much money I missed out on because I’m not in the business anymore,” said a Buffalo woman, now 28, who operated a small escort service for several years through 2005.
Police, lawyers and industry observers say a lot of prostitution activity – particularly that of the escorts – seems to have moved onto the Web.
“Online’s just taken over everything,” said David Sugg, a newly retired Buffalo police detective who spent 25 years in the department’s vice squad. “I’d have to say 75 percent of it has to be online now. That’s a guess.”
Escorts are becoming Internet entrepreneurs, setting up their own Web sites, advertising through established adult-entertainment companies or placing ads on classified-ad sites.
Large Web sites such as Escorts. com and TheEroticReview. com let prospective customers search through thousands of escorts by location, by the type of woman desired or by how highly her services were rated by former clients.
A search through Escorts. com in the Buffalo area brought up 85 local escorts, while TheEroticReview.com carries information on 24 “independent providers” who work in the region.
>Courtesan, not escort
One area escort, who calls herself Ciara, has an extensive Web site that features a blog, a list of rules, and quotations from Andy Rooney and Adlai Stevenson.
“Everything you will see here is from the fruits of my own labor. There is no way a stranger or Web design company could do my site. For heaven[‘ s] sakes! How would you get to know the REAL me?” Ciara asks playfully.
The Web sites the women set up vary in sophistication but most offer a brief biography, basic guidelines, alluring photographs, a fee schedule and a calendar of her availability.
One 28-year-old woman who has a Web site advertising her charms prefers to call herself a courtesan, not an escort, and said what she does is part of a lifestyle and not a job.
The Eastern European native, who lives in a Buffalo suburb, provides companionship and intelligent conversation to men of a certain socioeconomic status here and in Las Vegas.
She set up her site to reach a wider geographic range of men.
It describes her physical appearance, standards and fees. She does not like discussing money, but suggested “donations” range from $500 for an hour to $30,000 for a week.
The men pay for her time, she said, not the sex.
“Some men love their wives, but the excitement is not there, and they would like to have some spark,” she said. “And I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
>Help from husband
A 45-year-old man whose 36-year-old wife works as an escort first set up a Web site for her in 2001, when few local escorts had sites and competition was not as strong.
“The Internet has been the main key” to their business, the Niagara Falls man said.
He handles the books, answers e-mails from the men, drives his wife to her appointments and waits outside while she meets the men.
They earn good money – $250 to $300 per hour, plus tips – from clients in Erie and Niagara counties, Rochester and Syracuse.
He said his wife has received several cars as gifts from regular clients, including a BMW 3 Series convertible.
The couple hasn’t gotten into legal trouble but has a prominent local lawyer on retainer just in case. The husband said they report and pay taxes on their earnings.
Their three children – ages 12, 13 and 14 – know what their parents do, he said.
He admits he was uncomfortable at first with his wife sleeping with strange men, but now he views the sex as a business transaction.
“The money’s so good, it makes you look the other way,” he said.
How much can an escort make in a year?
The Niagara Falls man said his wife made $4,000 to $5,000 per week – or $200,000 to $260,000 per year – when she started working as an escort and there wasn’t much local competition. Now she earns less but still makes a good living, he said.
The Town of Tonawanda online escort said she sees an average of 12 to 15 clients per week and charges $200 per session – for an annual income of $125,000 to $150,000 per year.
She said she tries to save $100 per day and, after working as an escort for about 18 months, she has $30,000 in the bank.
The escorts say they couldn’t make as much as they do without the ability to reach customers through the Web.
Some of the sites are helpful for beginners, with answers to frequently asked questions and guidance on what the guy needs to do, plus a glossary that explains the shorthand used by most women.
One standard term – “GFE” – refers to the full girlfriend experience they promise to provide.
The client reviews, not unlike those found on eBay, help ensure customer satisfaction.
At TheEroticReview, for example, a local escort who goes by the names Rosary Gardyn and Sarah has received 10 reviews since June 2004.
Her ratings for her appearance range from “OK if you are drunk” to “Really Hot” and those assessing her performance range from “average” to “went the extra mile.”
Most escort Web sites include some form of legal fig leaf that the escorts are charging a fee for their companionship.
“They advertise an escort service, but they never go anywhere,” said Dombrowski of the Erie County (Pa.) district attorney’s office. “It kind of takes the escort out of the business.”
But as Mindy and Ricky McAllister, discovered, the system is not foolproof.
The Albion, Pa., couple ran “Take a Trip to Heaven with an Angel,” a Web site that advertised escort services to men in Western New York; Erie, Pa.; and Cleveland, Dombrowski said.
The McAllisters pleaded guilty to misdemeanor prostitution- related charges in Erie, Pa. Their Buffalo-area clients were not prosecuted.
Locally, one of the escorts arrested in an Internet-based sting conducted this spring by Buffalo police called her friends in the escort industry later that night to warn them, the Niagara Falls escort-service operator said.
The threat of arrest hasn’t stopped many escorts from using the Web to advertise. The Town of Tonawanda resident, a single mother of 5- and 6-yearold boys, said she entered the business after visiting friends who worked as escorts in New York City. They told her how to use craigslist and other Web sites to find clients.
“Where else can I earn $200 an hour?” asked the escort, who said she has earned an associate degree.
One of her ads on craigslist ran under the title “PLEASURES TREASURES” and featured four photos of her posing in lingerie.
“If they like what they see, they call me,” she said.
She requires the clients to use a condom, and said she undergoes regular testing, which never has come up positive for HIV or a sexually transmitted disease.
She said she doesn’t want to do this forever because having sex with strangers – often married, cheap and unable to carry on an adult conversation – takes an emotional toll.
“What this does is it puts a cold block of ice over your heart. Even if you sleep with someone who you might love. It’s hard to do that,” she said.
MONDAY: Prosecution is difficult
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