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Yes, even prostitutes are now rated on the Internet

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A Web site provides reviews of escorts. The Erotic Review has changed the buisness of prostitution, allowing providers to become independent. (Photograph by Robert McDonald)

For Bailey McCoy, business is booming.

A devotee of what she calls the dying art of hospitality, McCoy runs her business mostly out of her upper east side Manhattan apartment. And the reason she's doing so well is the Internet: Online, McCoy is one of the most highly rated escorts in New York City.

Her stellar reviews appear on a Web site called The Erotic Review (www.theeroticreview.com), one of the very few sites of its kind on the Internet. More than 75,000 sex workers are reviewed on the site and, according to experts and industry insiders, it has changed the way the business works.

McCoy’s career and thousands of others show how The Erotic Review has revolutionized the escort industry. An escort can set herself up in business, create a Web site that is linked to The Erotic Review, and never need to procure customers--the customers come to them. The review allows prostitutes to work independently of agencies and pimps.

The topic of prostitution dramatically thrust itself into the news recently with the revelation of New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s visit in Washington, D,C., to a call girl named Ashley Alexandra Dupré, who worked for an agency called the Emperor’s Club VIP. Although Dupré does not get a rating on the Erotic Review, 13 other girls who belong to the Emperor’s Club are indeed reviewed there. None of the reviews, however, would be printable in a family newspaper.

The site contains more than 450,000 reviews of “providers,” a euphemism for prostitutes and erotic masseuses. Site administrators say there are nearly a million registered users, with more than 250,000 individuals visiting each day.

David Elms, 38, who founded The Erotic Review eight years ago, said he got the idea for the site when he was programming for message boards that centered on prostitution. He said he realized that he could create a site that met the needs of thousands of men who wanted to know who were the best “providers.”

“There is a tremendous demand for this and people don’t realize it,” said Elms. “There is a vast and thriving community out there and I like to think my Web site is at the head of it.”

For all their popularity, the sites can have both positive and negative effects on a prostitute's business.

On the one hand, they allow the sex workers to be independent from pimps and escort agencies. “Sites like The Erotic Review have opened up a whole new world,” said Weitzer. “In years past, johns had to operate in the dark about how everything worked. Now, it is all out there, categorized and available to everyone.”

On the other, however, they expose the women to unwanted attention from the police. Jose Montoya, a spokesman for the Las Vegas Police Department, said that his department regularly “trolls” The Erotic Review and sometimes makes arrests after making appointments with providers.

McCoy said she had never heard of The Erotic Review until last year, when one of her clients asked if she wanted him to write a review for her. She was pleasantly surprised when excellent reviews on the site began to improve her business.

“My phone started ringing like crazy after that,” said McCoy, as she nibbled on her lunch in an upscale Manhattan restaurant. “Now it’s become a core of my business.”

McCoy has 26 reviews, all of which are favorable.

“I found her online, as one does these things, and, given the number of high scoring reviews, thought this must be a no-lose situation. It certainly was,” began one of her reviews. The reviewer continues, like almost all the reviews on the site, to tell the story of their encounter in an explicit play-by-play manner.

The intimate physical dimensions, sexual specialties and contact information are listed on each providers page. For a monthly fee of $20, users get “VIP” status and can read the personal reviews. Reviewers get 15 days of full access for every review they post.

Jennifer, an escort who works in Los Angeles that The Erotic Review has revolutionized the way her business works.

“The reviews are the most important part of the business now,” said Jennifer, who did not want her last name used. “If you get good reviews you almost need to have a waiting list. If you get a bad review it could finish a girl.”

Both McCoy and Jennifer said that while they don’t like to have what they do dissected and judged on the Internet, they believe the business it generates outweighs the bad.

Most of the providers charge around $400 an hour for their services. One man, an accountant who asked that his name not be used, is one of the top reviewers on the site with more 200 reviews under his belt. He said that what many on the Web site call the “hobby”--in other words, going to prostitutes--is not just about sex and that is why the prices are so high. Many of the reviewers write about a “gfe,” or girl friend experience, and that is the apparent standard of service expected by reviewers.

“Because I know I cannot be faithful to one woman, marriage has never entered my mind,” the man said. “There is an emotional aspect to the hobby and especially the gfe. We want intimacy even though it may not be real.”

Jennifer said that most of her regular customers end up talking for most of their sessions and said that sex was only part of her business. Many men are looking for a girlfriend without the unpleasantness of reality.

“Men want an intense all-around experience that is a lot like what they thought romance was all about when they were growing up,” said Jennifer. “Now they are married or divorced and they want the wildness and spontaneity that relationships usually kill off.”

Jennifer said The Erotic Review and her Web pages that are linked to the site have allowed her to be completely independent.

“I am my own person now, a real businesswoman,” said Jennifer.

Elms said he was a pioneering businessman and what he does is entirely legal. He said he thinks of himself as a kind of editor who gets information and then passes it on to others. He said he makes no claims on the truth of what people put on the site.

“We report what people say is real, we pass along information, we don’t break the law,” Elms said.

Though she has concerns about the possibility of a police crackdown, Jennifer said she loves her job and the success that The Erotic Review has helped to bring her.

“I meet interesting people, make good money and have my own schedule,” she said. “How many people can say that?”

Email: ram2171@columbia.edu