Men and escorts: ‘I think I could tell if they didn’t like it’
For some of their clients, prostitutes provide a fulfilling way to avoid commitment and solve emotional problems. For others, they are easy targets
Let the right one in: some prostitutes go ‘on tour’ around Ireland. Photograph: Thinkstock
‘I used to be under the illusion that I was a nice respectful john. Today I am tortured by my memories,” says David, a successful Dublin businessman in his 50s who is married with children. He says he has bought sex 200 times, in 13 countries over 20 years: on the street, with escort call-ins and in brothels, bars, clubs, hostess bars and strip clubs. He even sent a girl to a business associate as a “gift” and fell in love with a working girl he would marry if he could – but a crisis of conscience, after an underage prostitute he used was found dead, has filled him with guilt, and he has stopped buying sex.
“Some girls were so controlled that I can only conclude they were slaves. Many girls never get to exercise their right to refuse a customer, and I was involved in breaking in a trafficked girl.
“The recent move to change the law caught my attention, so I read up on laws, regulations and practices around the world. Globally, prostitution is a very ugly industry.
“Some things I read have been very upsetting, partly because they shed new light on my own experiences – incidents that previously were happy memories are now nightmares – and partly because they describe the world from a female perspective, which is new to me,” says David.
“I find it impossible to separate prostitution from the status of women in society. I am astounded when I see feminists promoting sex work. I am literally dumbstruck. I don’t know what to say. I can’t understand why anything needs to be said, it is so obvious. If they had seen what I have seen, if they had done what I have done, there would be no debate. The institution of prostitution is abhorrent. Women and girls deserve better than this.
“Because I believe it is impossible to separate forced from unforced, trafficked from willing, underage from overage, legal from illegal, I think the only reasonable option is to criminalise purchase.”
Adam, another man who uses prostitutes, disagrees. “I probably visit escorts about once a month,” he says. “Sometimes there’s elation afterwards, sometimes even indifference: the experiences vary.”
A comfortably-off single Midlands farmer in his 30s with a background in finance, Adam is one of the 6 per cent of men who admit to having paid for sex at least once, according to the 2006 Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships. A self-confessed commitmentphobe, he is wary of relationships and more comfortable paying for sex.
He says he’s been wrongly blighted by the view that all men like him are, in the words of the author and former prostitute Rachel Moran, “sexual abusers and rapists” who, in the words of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, are causing “emotional, physical and psychological harm”.
Adam rejects the idea that, with few exceptions, prostitutes are “vulnerable women who are coerced” and that “prostitution is a form of gender-based violence” , as described by Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama.
Turn Off the Red Light says that “organised crime is absolutely linked to Irish prostitution”, but this is not the world that Adam believes himself to be taking part in when he surfs the internet, researching the next “independent escort” that he plans to visit when she comes to town.
“When I’ve had a busy week, or am just in a terrific mood, I’d venture to the website to see which escorts are in my area, and if there is a particular escort I find attractive I’d ring looking for an appointment.
“Ten or 15 minutes before the appointment I ring her number again to confirm, and she gives me general directions to her location. When I reach the apartment block or hotel I make a final call for the room number.
“You reach the door with slight nerves as you knock, but nerves in the stomach turn to excitement if you hear boots on the floor as she walks to the door. Imagination is a powerful thing.
“You pretty much know within the first 10 seconds whether you’ll click or whether it will merely be a friendly but formal time, conscious of the fact that any man with any intention can walk through that door. I’m very aware of making her immediately comfortable in my presence.”
Adam says he treats the escorts he pays for sex with respect, and he is convinced they are independent and have not been trafficked or pimped. “I would love to have the courage to publicly fight for the cause of sex workers.”
If Turn Off the Red Light is successful and leads to the criminalisation of men who buy sex, Adam could be named and fined if he were caught; he says he would probably stop.
But he doesn’t regard prostitution as immoral, believing it is far worse to go into a nightclub and pick up a woman near closing time when she’s full of alcohol.
It’s more honest to be upfront about sex as a financial transaction, he says, and he disagrees with “the prevailing stereotype that prostitutes are lowest of the low and anybody consorting with them is a loser”.
Adam’s belief, and that of other men who buy sex, that escorts are selling their bodies voluntarily and are in total control of their destiny makes these men feel justified in using prostitutes.
Patrick, a Dubliner who is in his late 20s, says that looking at the provocative photographs of the women on websites and reading the “reviews” of them by other punters is part of the thrill of using escorts. He avoids using the word prostitute.
Before the internet, using prostitutes required a certain knowledge of the underworld, but today easy access through the web makes it appear almost normal, which is why, according to some escorts, the punters are younger.
For Patrick, a middle-class, educated, well-mannered young man, the emotional complexities of having a girlfriend – and he’s had a few – are sectioned off in one part of his psyche; the sex he has with prostitutes is purely recreational.
Patrick believes the notion, promoted by the websites he visits, that there is a type of woman with the steel and ambition to sell her body and that neither he nor she is doing any harm. “I admire them. They seem to enjoy it. I think I could tell if they didn’t,” he says.
Other men, such as Ciaran, view prostitution as a solution to their emotional problems. As a child, Ciaran was physically abused by his mother’s male partner. “I sometimes think that my experience of abuse may have been a contributory factor in explaining why I use the services of prostitutes. It has reduced, and continues to reduce, my confidence when relating to people in social situations, particularly women,” he says.
Ciaran, who is from Co Cork, says he is saddened by the view that “ all clients get off on hurting women”. He says, “This is certainly not the case with myself, and, speaking with escorts, they frequently state that many – but by no means all – their clients treat them with respect.”
Daniel, an older man who uses escorts, says that he feels ill at ease with women, because he is chronically shy, but that he needs to have sexual experiences in order to feel alive. He lost his virginity to a prostitute many years ago, believing that it was the only way he ever would.
Daniel sees himself and not the prostitute as the weaker person in need of the solace prostitution provides, with the prostitute the more confident person in the exchange.
Do these men deserve to be labelled as criminals? They don’t believe so.
All names have been changed