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The Big Ripoff: TER, The Texas Murder Aquittal, and the Myth of the Vulnerable Client

Dave Elms, founder of The Erotic Review, possessor of a rap sheet documenting violent crimes and harassment against women.

In early 2010, Dave Elms, founder of the infamous website The Erotic Review (best known as the review site where clients rate prostitutes on a scale of 1-10), was arrested after talking to an undercover officer in an attempt to hire a hit man. Elms wanted to pay for the murder of an escort and the severe injury of a website founder who used his own forum to air the well-known but rarely publicized fact that Elms and other TER moderators extorted sex and/or money from escorts in exchange for maintaining their positive reviews. Elms was convicted of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault. This charge, to which he pled guilty, was one of many legal issues he faced at the time. He was already on probation for drugs and gun violations from 2006. Furthermore, Elms’ decision to pay for the killing of Jane Doe came on the heels of his outing her to her family, as well as publicizing her legal name and home address online in connection with her escort name. Murder: it’s for when relentlessly harassing a sex worker just isn’t enough.

Though it was only three years ago that David William Elms entered official records as a man willing to invest in murdering prostitutes, this information is rarely discussed anymore among online-advertising escorts, let alone among the clients who position TER as a defining force in their sex and social lives. TER chugs along like the profitable, amoral machine it is, unharmed by its somehow secret status as the most enduring and powerful product of a scummy, thuggish psychopath. The company itself “parted ways” with Elms after his 2009 arrest (that’s the one where he tried to engineer an escort’s death, if you’re having trouble keeping track). This is no more accurate than saying the United States “parted ways” with Thomas Jefferson after his slave-raping became public. A project cannot be cleanly extricated from the ideology of the person(s) who created it, no matter how convenient or fervent the dream of tie-cutting may be. If his legal conviction wasn’t evidence enough, Elms is also on record as conceiving TER in the crucible of his intense sense of entitlement and permanent grudge against sex workers.

I was getting ripped off,” Elms told MSNBC.com in 2006 with no further explanation of what “ripped off” might mean. In TER’s world, a ripoff can be a woman not looking like her pictures, asking for more money than her initial show-up fee to have intercourse, or not being a good enough lay. Given that Elms followed this statement by positing getting ripped off against getting “good service,” it’s probable he was referring not to a woman taking his money and running but rather taking his money and not performing to his sexual standards. In the words of MSNBC, this was about “protection”—for clients, not for workers. Elms added that TER is founded on his deep conviction that it’s important to “hold people accountable for their actions.” The person in this scenario is a prostitute, and the action is failing to provide outstanding sex to the specifications of a man who’s just handed over three 50s. TER’s “About Us” page makes no bones about it: “This site is here for one single reason: We all work hard for our money and we don’t want to waste it on someone who doesn’t deliver.”

Ezekiel Gilbert, admitted murderer of Lenora Ivie Frago

Is any of this sounding familiar? It might ring a bell in the mind of Christmas Eve killer Ezekiel Gilbert, who, after yesterday, will enjoy a jail-free life in spite of murdering a young woman whom he paid $150 for—he thought—sex, and who allegedly did not deliver. It’s the ultimate meting out of accountability. When a whore doesn’t give a man what he wants, she deserves to be punished as severely as he sees fit. “DID YOU GET RIPPED OFF AGAIN?” asked one TER print ad. “Don’t let them get away with it.”

In his police interview, Gilbert “never mentioned anything about theft,” raising the question of what exactly it is he, like Elms, considers retaliation-worthy prostitute behavior, AKA a ripoff. What perceived slight cost Lenora Ivie Frago her life on December 24th 2009? We’ll never know. We do know, however, that when drug and gun charges were filed against Elms in 2006, a prostitute present for the arrest told police Elms had raped her at gunpoint. Elms maintained that he’d paid her $100 yet she wanted more money before she’d consent to sex. The deputy district attorney declined to press charges against Elms, citing a lack of evidence. Looks like yet another one of those devious prostitutes “got away with it.” (Does “it” mean “her life”?)

I’m going to keep this short because our lives are short: it’s time for sex workers to do some killing of their own. We need to kill this myth of the righteously aggrieved client once and for all. It’s a myth that enables men to blackmail, rob, rape, and kill sex workers. It is a shame when you pay for a service you don’t receive, but it happens all the time in all varieties of the service industry, and it shouldn’t ever foster vengeful attempts at singlehandedly policing every worker in an entire field.

Lenora Ivie Frago, murdered by Ezekiel Gilbert
Lenora Ivie Frago, murdered by Ezekiel Gilbert

I propose that from this point forward, we don’t let the letters “TER” go uttered even once without launching into a recounting of the information above. That we support and encourage our colleagues while they explore ways to work without reviews, or at the very least with reviews on sites acting as alternatives to TER. That we create our own alternatives. That we recognize and reject vampiric pimps in all their forms. (As Melissa Gira Grant once put it, Elms successfully “jockeyed to take the abusive middleman’s place.” Jason Itzler, the man who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from famous New York escort Natalia, praised Elms as “the most influential man in the prostitution business in America.”) That we don’t let a single client bemoan the risk he takes by submitting to a screening form when escorts are, indisputably, disproportionately, and aggressively targeted for arrest, police violence, extortion by friends and family, abuse from violent men posing as clients, and life-ruining stigma when outed. They do not suffer a fraction of what we suffer. That lie ends now.

Clients sometimes lose money. Sex workers regularly lose their lives. How should we rate that reality on a scale of one to ten?


  1. Standing ovation.

    Here’s my guess as to what happened between Frago + Gilbert, based on nothing but the experiences of myself and so many of my colleagues: he handed over the money, treated her like shit, and so she refused to deal with him and walked out, with every right to keep the fucking money. Acting like an outrageous asshole is breach of contract in my book.

    Or maybe she really did rip him off, in the sense that she took his money and simply decided to leave. (It’s of course debatable whether that’s an actual rip off, as she was almost certainly advertising for her time and not specific services.) Instead of being proportionally punished, she had to pay with her life for 150 measly fucking dollars, because we live in a rape culture, and a gun culture, and a culture that sees sex workers as utterly disposable.

  2. Please. Please. Please stop using slaves and Black genocide to support your points. This is so valid and so necessary to read and internalize. But please stop using us to support your points. It’s not necessary and is disingenuous.

  3. There are sites a lot worse then TER out there. Local boards are notorious for being very abusive to workers. Putting the whole blame on TER for all of escort review culture issues, is like blaming Craigslist for the existence of prostitution.

    Shouldn’t the real issue not be with review sites for this terrible murder but the court system in Texas that saw fit to give a murderer a walk?

  4. Reading this has brought back long forgotten memories of being on review boards (not TER) often feeling sick with pressure and unease that I didn’t understand at the time. I blamed myself, and felt I didn’t have the skills to know and articulate my boundaries, and if there was a misunderstanding it was probably because I must have done something wrong. I cared deeply for my clients and recognized that many of them were lonely and in need of healing. I wanted to be as flexible and accommodating as I reasonably could for them and every persons time with me was different. Focusing on that was more natural to me than recognizing the immensely hostile environment I was in which set me up for failure. It has been years since I was a sex worker and I still miss it. It’s a shame because with less of this kind of bullshit I could have been doing something I was good at for a hell of a lot longer.

  5. Thank you for writing this! I agree with Jenni that there are many problematic sites and that targeting TER alone is not enough. But this is a powerful call to action for sex workers to unify against the BS. The government is doing a fair job ensuring that decent people who treat the workers respectfully get shut down and mislabeled as traffickers, like that man in New Mexico. I don’t remember the name of his message board. Do you remember that from last year? The system consistently dismisses sex workers and reinforces the bad behavior of opportunistic predators. It all just makes me sick.

  6. USA escorts is one site with local boards that is horrid. I hated TER when I was working but recognized that without good reviews there my business suffered. I came up with some work arounds – for clients I thought would give a bad review, I told them not to review me because I had some legal issues. For clients who got the works bc I liked them – I told not to mention certain acts so as not to raise expectations of new clients. I felt tyrannized by this – always worried a new guy was a reviewer. It did effect my services many times bc I felt the need to do just a bit more. Yuck.

  7. Please know that there ARE people who care about sex workers being murdered along with ALL types of victims and have done so for years. This lady didn’t deserve this and neither does any other murder victim no matter what their job, race, sex, age, etc. Could the organizations that are there for murder victims and their surviving family/friends do a better job of speaking for sex workers? YES. But, to give credit where it’s due, there are individuals within these groups that speak out for murdered sex workers. I started doing this in the recent past and will keep doing so. I’m not a sex worker but am for decriminalization of prostitution. Please sign this petition to change the law in Texas: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/638/189/498/texas-shooting-women-for-refusing-sex-is-a-crime/ We need to do all we can to stop this from happening again. Thanks for your help.

  8. The scum Gilbert claimed the protection of a Texas law that allows you to use deadly force to stop someone from getting away with your money or property (even if no longer representing a threat!). So his defense indeed was that whatever it was he wanted from Lenora Frago was part of his property rights and he could not allow her to get away with it. The whole attitude of entitlement has a lot of sources, but it does get reinforced by many of the review sites, and that does not help at all when sex workers are already in such a vulnerable position.

    At least the DA in the Texas case did file murder charges, but the jury chose to buy the perp’s excuse (which seems to be summarized as: “He was not trying to kill her, just to stop her like the law says”. Oh, please…).

  9. “DID YOU GET RIPPED OFF AGAIN? Didn’t read her reviews, did you? Don’t let them get away with it. The reason why these rip-offs exist is because up until now there was nothing you could do about it. By submitting a review you are not only warning thousands of guys in your area, you hitting them where it hurts…HER WALLET”

    Sorry, I had to contextualize that quote. I honestly think you’d have to use Melissa-Farley-level of biased data collection to say that TER members condone violence, demanding services that aren’t offered, demanding unsafe services, or “punishment” of rip-off escorts… the attitude seems to be “haha, you didn’t read her bad reviews, your own fault.”

    I don’t think it makes sense to parallel “writing a bad review” when you’re ripped off with “murdering someone” when you’re ripped off… writing a “bad review” seems pretty proportional to loosing 150 dollars, no? Honestly… is that any different than filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau?

    I don’t argue that David Elms is dangerous scum. I think you’re right that the people behind many review boards are scummy… and that effects the structure and ‘culture’ of review boards, but isn’t really indicative of behavior or beliefs of people who use them.

    Honestly, at least 1/4 to 1/5 of topic-threads on the “new client” forum of TER are about “screening” — and it’s generally “hobbyists” telling new clients that it’s okay to give personal information to providers and that they should sign up for a screening service. And I do know it’s way easier for me to get screening info from clients who use review boards than others…

    There are some things I don’t like about review boards. But I do think that review boards make me (and the business generally) safer.

    • I don’t understand why you think the full text of the ad is exculpatory — “hit her where it hurts” is not the language of the Better Business Bureau. (And if I’d been so interested in obscuring the entirety of the ad, I wouldn’t have linked directly to it. But thanks for hinting that I’m akin to Melissa Farley.) I also don’t understand where “hit here where it hurts” and “don’t let them get away with it” reads to you as, “haha, it’s your own fault.” (It doesn’t even say “use TER to avoid that in the future”!) Maybe Angie’s List and Yelp have run advertisements positioning themselves as places to take revenge, but that’s not their dominant marketing strategy. Angie’s List in particular emphasizes how happy and satisfied all their users are, because they found an outstanding person/company. Maybe TER has ads where someone raves that he found his “ATF” on TER and is now one of the happiest men alive, but I haven’t seen that either. And that’s not how Dave Elms conceived and developed the site. (The automatic downgrade/lower marks for covered blowjobs testifies to that. It would be like the BBB requiring that all employees be attractive and dressed in skimpy outfits in order for a business to receive an A; arbitrary and dishonest.)

      The problem is that while clients theoretically might need “protection” in most business transactions, or at least education, clients already have a disproportionate amount of power in sex work transactions because they usually can abuse, rape, rob, and even murder with impunity. And please, spare me the reply that the Texas situation is entirely unique because Texas is a fucked up state. Where’s our Long Beach murder suspect, or public outcry that a serial killer like him is still free?

      I didn’t say all review sites are created equal or that all reviews are bad. I think TER is particularly unpleasant and dangerous because it has the residue of the Elms’-established punishment/reward attitude. Is every man who uses TER a monster? No, and I didn’t say or even imply that they are. But the site was created by a monster, and I will never be comfortable using it, endorsing it, or defending it in large part because of that.

      • You are right, Elms is a monster. However, as dips*itty as these boards may or may not be, they are not a major source of the problems in the issue of abuse of sex workers. The major source, by far, is the status of illegality re: most sex work.

        The status of second class citizen, both client and service provider, who can’t report abuse to the proper authorities without admitting the commission of a crime is the problem. Legalizing all forms of sex work that involve no coercion, human trafficking, or minors but only adults acting with fully informed autonomous consent solves most of the problems. Resolves many issues of official corruption and organized crime involvement as well.

        At that point the notion of “Angie’s List” type websites servicing the clients of sex workers becomes something service providers need to get use to, as the transactions involved will be be not much different, or less legal, than contracting to have ones household plumbing attended to.

  10. Elms hurt a lot of folks including members and staff at TER. Drugs and power did him in. But he was caught and is being punished. I have no love for the current owners and staff of TER but the overall positive it provides outweighs the negatives. It has brought some degree of legitimacy and accountability to our less than transparent circle.

    Conversely, no one held Gilbert accountable. Yet, it is not the court system that failed, it was the people in the system. Prevailing attitudes brought out the worst in some. Imagine if it had been Gilbert who would have been killed by the escort when Gilbert stole from her (by refusing to pay)// he poor lady would already be on death row.

    In the end, keep writing and I will keep reading.

    • Reviews help both the sex workers and the Johns. I owned a escorts services and tried to take good care of all of my girls and treat everyone with respect to their needs and I found myself at times paying money out just to keep a John happy when he felt that he didn’t get what he had paid for. At the same time I also found myself having to take action upon a John that had cross the line and hurt one of the girls. The safety of the girls came first I took all the calls and made all the appointments for them I screen everyone and yes I read between the lines and turned down many request if I felt something was not right. If you come upon someone you cannot find anything wrong with then you have found the one you don’t want to trust as a safe person . I would check with other escorts on the client in question it would sometimes take me up to 48 hours before I would book a date with a new guy but that didn’t always work out. It seams that I found that I was having more old clients trying to hurt the girls than the newer clients this is where the long term friendship of clients and provider failed. I seen that the longer the girl seen the same guy the more the guy felt that she was his to do whatever he wanted to do with her. After I had to take two of my girls out of town just to make sure they would be safe I closed down shop. The girls did nothing wrong to the client but make them feel too special which turned them into a controlling animal I am talking about married men with family’s and some was even police officers. So where do the girls or sex workers stand on having anyone that can protect them when a date goes bad. It’s not the sites that we have that they use or don’t use it is the person that thinks they have a right to take whatever they want for a person they feel is under them. No matter what is said or done there will be another man that feels he has the right to take a woman’s life just because he wants to. So all in all I think all the sex worker should have a carry permit and use it with extreme prejudice if they need to. The law keeps good people good it will not ever make a bad person into a good person and that is what most of the persons are deep inside that calls on an escort.

  11. Ok, so this would take a lot of work, but… if enough sex workers united, could you create a Firefly-style review board, where clients are rated as well as sex workers? Not with real names, of course, but eBay does it without real names.

  12. TER and USASexGuide are filled with bottom feeding scum. Sure there are nice and lonely guys that enjoy the company of an intligemt and beautiful woman like myself but too many of these guys are real assholes. I am involved with someone who escorted while in law school and I can assure all the morons on those sites that many are quietly rallying and the shit WILL hit the fan and all those active on the sites will be publicly exposed. Now if, but when.

  13. I keep coming back to this article. I no longer receive guests who cite TER as how they came across me.

    I have two fake reviews there. Both from people who cite seeing me in cities that I wasn’t in. I have a colleague with the same issue, and when she approached the mods about it, she was asked for a $195.00 “processing fee” to remedy the matter, i.e, deleting the fabricated reviews.

    Anyone else get this?

    • I received a false review authored by Kate Marx of a Jacksonville, FL escort service. She’d asked me to see guys for only 210 in exchange for reviews of her employees…when I declined, she confabulated the fake (horrible) review and had one of her guys post it to my profile. I’d never even met the guy. I requested it be removed, however, they’re still investigating. I have a feeling I may have to pay for the removal.

  14. There are other review boards around that support women and sex workers in general. I started working with TnA Review http://www.tnareview.com after being in the business a long time and witnessing a lot of the frustrations other girls were having with TER. After that I found TnA to be a very refreshing review board, built on the same premise as TER but by a woman who supports fairness in the industry. Check it out

  15. I have been extremely lucky to not have had to deal with many jerks. But I’ll say that I wanted to work “under the radar,” so I looked up Kate Marx – service in Jacksonville. She told me I needed to see guys at the rate of 210 in exchange for reviews. She apparently owed several guys free dates and wanted me to pay her proverbial bill. Screw that, I said! Play for pay is not ethical in my book.. but you know what she did? She had one of her guys leave a really horrible review on me when I refused!! She even went as far as talking about my boyfriend in that review (I’d told her all about him because I had trusted her.) Turns out, she used that as ammo to confabulate that fake review!!
    If she does that to me – an applicant – then WHAT WOULD SHE MIGHT DO TO HER ACTUAL REAL CLIENTS?!
    I never met the guy who left that review on me. And I think this is a culture where reviews are a necessary evil, because they help us in the business but they can be used as a weapon, too..

  16. […] By now, years after Dave Elms was deposed from his position as the head of TER, most people know the story of how Elms used his position as the owner of an escort message board to take advantage of providers and exact revenge on his enemies. For those who are unfamiliar with the facts, Tits and Sass has an excellent post about it HERE. […]

    • “Adrianna Carter December 14, 2015 at 2:58 am
      Please support and follow @fck_ter on Twitter”

      No freaking way… for what ???? then you will post all my private information on internet….. no freaking way !!!!!!

  17. I have had many one-sided run-ins with TER’s seemingly anti-provider policies. Any conflict or fake review that arises ultimately ends in siding with the reviewer. As a provider on this site, you must just take the blows from TER and its abusive users if you want the business it brings.

    After reading this, I’d like to remove myself from their site. Despite the benefits the reviews bring, my self-respect is not worth it.

    I am curious if the editors have suggestions for alternatives to TER, and how to get removed from this site!

  18. […] We knew already that Backpage was no friend of ours. We learned that even more definitively last year in January under the shadow of Lacey and Larkin’s Senate hearing, when it proved itself capable of asking sex worker activists for testimony championing the site one week and then caving to pressure and shutting down the adult ads the next week as a “free speech” protest, leaving sex workers wondering how they were going to feed their kids. (They had the same attitude then we’re seeing from other third party platforms now—through the grapevine we’re hearing that The Erotic Review is looking for an escort plaintiff to be a face for their case against SESTA. The damaging salacious scrutiny that would result there wouldn’t be falling on the men who run TER.) […]


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