I've been a sex worker for 10+years, starting out as a pro-domme and sub, then moving on to escort and erotic massage work. For a short time, I ran my own escort service and did casting and crew work on adult films. Since 2007, I've helped run Sex Workers Outreach Project-Chicago and was the media team coordinator for the 2008 and 2010 Desiree Alliance conferences. I also volunteer with Chicago Recovery Alliance's "Recovery Rags" program and host the "Chicago Sex Tour" for The Discovery Center. I lecture on sex work regularly at colleges and conferences all over the US, but mostly in Chicago. My current project is Adult Industry Truth, an industry-wide research survey on responses to human trafficking within the sex trade. I have a BA in documentary filmmaking and am working on a master's degree in social work. You can find my video projects at RedLightDistrictChicago.com and blog at SexPros.net. I love sex work because it's the only job I can't get fired from.


(Photo by flickr user sharyn morrow, via Creative Commons)

(Photo via sharyn morrow’s flickr and the Creative Commons)

Dungeons are often a launching pad for newbies entering the industry as the work seems safer and often more socially acceptable to the general public. In recent years pro-domme, sub, and switch work has gotten more popular than ever. Meanwhile, commercial dungeon management continues to prey on people entering into the industry looking for an “empowering” job and finding out that it’s the exact opposite.

Serpent Libertine began her career at commercial dungeons in Chicago and later moved onto escort work. She is currently an organizer with SWOP-Chicago and part of the team behind Adult Industry Truth, which conducts research about human trafficking in the sex trade.

Cathryn: I started out doing fetish work independently, mostly spanking fetishists alongside my friend. I transitioned to indie pro-domming and escorting. My first time ever working in a house was last year but I’m back to independent work now. I’m what I like to call a prostidomme. I’m basically an escort, but I do the weird stuff.

Reina: An old friend from high school started Domming at a professional dungeon and told me the work she did at her dungeon was fun, but sometimes the work (and management) was crazy and weird. I was always drawn to the ‘weird and crazy,’ so immediately I was curious about what could possibly be so jarring that she had to leave that place and seek a new dungeon. I was there for a full year before winding up at another commercial dungeon for another year, before going independent in February.

Selene: I have worked as a pro-domme at two commercial dungeons; a year at each one. I learned about it through an acquaintance of mine at school who told me “I’m a Dominatrix.” I was taken by the title and my interest rose until I finally called the dungeon. However, I had no idea as to what was in store.

What was your initial experience working at a commercial dungeon? What sort of expectations did you have?

Serpent: Pro-domme work was my introduction to the sex industry. My roommate was working at a dungeon that this  guy ran out of a basement apartment near Wrigley Field. He resembled the singer Tiny Tim (google him), but was even more creepy looking, with a huge pot belly and frizzy hair. He never showered and had a voice changer on his phone so he could pretend to be one of the dommes while setting up appointments with clients. I’d become well-acquainted with him via phone calls to our apartment asking for my roommate so eventually, I asked to come into his dungeon for an interview to work as a pro-domme. When I arrived, first he first seemed pretty cool and funny, but after talking to him for awhile, he laid down on the ground and began sniffing my feet, without my consent. He would continually talk about these fetish videos he wanted to shoot and ask my roommate and I to do a “screen test” to see how we looked on camera. Later I looked in his kitchen cabinets and found dozens of videotapes, likely of other women who had come into “interview” with him. Tiny Tim dicked me around and never gave me a shift at the dungeon but later phone harassed my roommate by calling her over 20 times a day after she quit working for him. I accompanied her to court when she pressed harassment charges against him and he was ordered to stop contacting her.

After that, I began working at one of the large commercial dungeons in Chicago. If I was nervous at all, I don’t remember, but I had no experience in BDSM activities at all. My training was to sit in on a few sessions with the other dommes and then start doing solo sessions. Our “dungeon” was just an apartment and we sat around bored most of the time, waiting for clients. I had purchased some rather pricey latex fetish clothing but at this place, most of the other dommes did sessions in lingerie or cheap fetish clothing.

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The good old days: 2007 Village Voice print escort ads, shortly before the dominion of the review boards (courtesy of the Design Observatory Group)

The good old days: 2007 Village Voice print escort ads, shortly before the monopoly of the review boards (courtesy of the Design Observatory Group)

When I first started working as an escort in this industry, review boards did not exist. The internet was not as widely used as it is now and I worked for agencies that advertised in the phone book or in local papers. We didn’t even have to post photos of ourselves in a public forum; some operator just described our looks and personality over the phone and clients took their chance at booking us. Business was hit or miss, but I liked the anonymity. Though I heard more and more escorts were using online advertising to promote themselves, I was late to the game. My old way of working didn’t yield me as much revenue as other workers, but it protected my privacy. And then finally the gig was up. I had to change with the times and start advertising online or I would have virtually no business. But I didn’t want a website. And I definitely didn’t want reviews.

I first became aware of escort review sites when I read an article about the Big Doggie debacle of 2002 and even then, I still didn’t quite understand what the website was. Upon visiting TBD for the first time, it looked like a confusing mess of ads and message boards, none of which I could access. Sometime later I found out about The Erotic Review, mostly from the controversy stemming from its founder Dave Elms and the various charges that were brought against him. Either way, I wanted nothing to do with either site. As someone who had already experienced arrest once before while working, I couldn’t believe any escort would want a detailed description of a session with a client posted online for anyone to read, providing law enforcement with another tool to prove their guilt in prostitution cases. Oh sure, the  disclaimer stated that the reviews were for “entertainment purposes only”, but when escorts got “fake” reviews, they were sure to raise holy hell about it and complain to the site administrators to have it removed, which is a daunting process in itself.

Then I got one. A fake review, that is. Yes, my first review was a fake review. It described me as having blond hair (not at that time),fake boobs (I wish) and doing a session I don’t recall booking, but I couldn’t read the rest because I wasn’t a “VIP” member. It was just a fluke that I found it as I never looked at TER, but I was bored one night and there it was, linked to my phone number and email address. [READ MORE]

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