Home Clients We Need A Better Review Culture

We Need A Better Review Culture

Let's boycott the review boards en masse and create our own.(Courtesy of ManBoobz)
Let’s boycott the review boards en masse and create our own.(Courtesy of ManBoobz)

Since becoming a full-time companion (my euphemism of choice) in the United States about nine months ago, I have noticed two distinct issues that affect our safety and ability to continue to operate. The first, most pressing issue is the fact that full service sex work is illegal in most parts of the country. The second issue is the fact that a very large online community of reviewers or “hobbyists” exists. While most hobbyists are not sociopathic predators who use coercive tactics to rape sex workers, the very fact that a review community exists creates a power structure that makes coercive rape a fairly common occurrence for sex workers. With so many sex workers coming forward saying they were sexually violated after being blackmailed with the threat of a bad review, there is something deeply wrong with a community of reviewers who perpetuate misogyny and rape culture.

The problem comes out of the hobbyist propensity to reduce sex workers to commodities. Many hobbyists claim it is important for them to know what they are getting into if they’re going to drop that kind of money on a “product,” and on the surface this argument makes sense. Law enforcement is a very real concern not only for sex workers, but also for our clients. It seems reasonable that a client would want to know whether or not they can trust that a sex worker is legit before agreeing to meet with them. Depending on the mood I’m in, I can even be sympathetic to the plight of the poor hobbyist who had a kinky fantasy that a sex worker cannot/won’t fulfill. We are, after all, quite the expensive hobby.

When we talk about reviews, though, and the information that is contained within them, we are not just talking about simple yes or no answers to questions of legitimacy and customer satisfaction. The hobbyists’ arguments for the necessity of reviews fall apart with one look at the reviews themselves. Not only will you find a full and detailed accounting of a sex worker’s body type and appearance, grooming habits, gender assignment versus presentation, and how nice/real their various body parts may or may not be; you also have the opportunity to read a very detailed account of the session a hobbyist enjoyed (or didn’t) with a sex worker. This includes all the dirty details on what the sex worker was or was not willing to do, and how happy or unhappy that made the hobbyist. These reviews can often read just like an Amazon.com review, with all the information about the provider’s body listed like basic product info, and the experience with the product (person) detailed below. I think most sex workers and even quite a few hobbyists would agree that these details are unnecessary and in fact compromise sex workers’ legal safety, since most of us try not to admit to exchanging sex for money.

I believe these sorts of details are included in order to commoditize sex workers, making them less than human and less deserving of empathy. It also creates a power structure in which hobbyists can use the threat of a bad review, or disappointment at not receiving services a sex worker chooses not to provide, to coerce workers into doing things they don’t want to do.

Let’s say, for example, that business has not been as good as usual for the past month and you’re worried about paying your rent. What happens when you agree to a session with a hobbyist during this financially unstable period? You could show up and your session could go very well and you could leave it feeling relieved that this hobbyist will probably write you a good review and you will probably get more clients from it and thus be able to make that rent payment. Or, perhaps you show up to the session and the hobbyist will ask you for anal sex even though that’s something you don’t always do (but have done in the past and some of your reviews mentioned that you did.) When you tell them that’s a boundary you can’t cross that particular day, they tell you that they’re really disappointed since they read a review that says you did it, and they may even want their money back and/or subtly threaten to write a bad review. What choice do you make then? Is it really so easy to stick to that boundary when your rent is coming up and you know you won’t be able to pay it with that bad review out there affecting your bookings? This is the type of situation that sex workers in areas dominated by review board culture frequently find themselves in. This is how hobbyists use their power and entitlement to rape.

This massage worker had the temerity to speak during the session! Sadly, the racism and misogyny displayed  here is all too typical of review culture. (Screenshot from www.toronto-exotic-massage.com)
This massage worker had the temerity to speak during the session! Sadly, the racism and misogyny displayed here are all too typical of review culture. (Screenshot from www.toronto-exotic-massage.com)

There are many, many sex workers out there who depend on reviews for business. Some sex workers even exclusively use reviews for marketing and advertising. I have been lucky enough to avoid accepting reviews altogether while still maintaining a healthy business. I devote a large amount of my time to marketing and advertising in venues outside of review boards, and maintained a sexuality blog that talked in detail about my sex life and interests before I even entered into this business that has been an invaluable marketing tool for letting potential clients know what I’m all about. I would never expect other sex workers to opt out of reviews, especially if they know how to work the system in a way that feels safe to them and makes them lots of money.

However, we need to begin working towards abolishing the hobbyist review system as it exists today. This work begins by doing just what we’re doing here: talking about why review culture is a problem, a hierarchical system that creates a culture of coercion and rape. We need to be outspoken with our clients about this and ask them to opt out where they can. Until we achieve decriminalization, we need to think about ways we can keep the process of vetting sex workers and clients more egalitarian. There are blacklists (though I do not believe there are many free-to-view blacklists currently operating, and that’s a big problem), and sites like P411 and Date-Check at least allow us to say whether or not a client is “OK,” or “satisfactory.” But we need to level the playing field by lobbying clients and review boards to include less information on sex workers in reviews. Finally, we need to create a review site maintained by sex workers that goes into detail about how clients behaved in sessions. I get a big kick out of imagining a client review site that lists details like penis size and sexual prowess. What would be most helpful, though, is knowing how well a client respects not only the sex worker’s boundaries but also their humanity.


  1. Frustratingly, the greatest portion of web traffic to my site comes from reviews, though I’m been fortunate enough to have people only say relatively nice things (although one client thought it appropriate to stick personal info that I happened to –foolishly– let slip during the appointment into his review, and I had to ask for it to be removed.)

    Myself and a friend who happens to have the necessary skills have been talking a lot about the idea of creating an alternative review culture and site, with a focus on cultivating respect for workers and taking the tools we need out of other (non sex-working) people’s hands.

  2. On Backpageblacklist.com you can view the entire entry for free. NationalBlacklist.com has at least a public names/subject lines. I just wish workers looked at these sites as much as clients looked at review sites. Every time I’ve had a bad client (four guys total), I find out later that he had already been blacklisted by someone. But stupidly, I forgot to look

  3. Overall, I really liked this piece, but I just wanted to throw this out there:

    I’ve seen clients’ concerns about law enforcement brought up a couple times in these articles on reviews, and I have to say I’m pretty unsympathetic to that argument. The vast majority of prostitution-related arrests are of sex workers. I’ve read that sex workers are arrested anywhere from three to five times more often than their clients, and while an arrest may be tough for a client, it’s usually worse for a worker, who may then have a lot of difficulty finding ‘straight’ employment. Further, while clients implicate both themselves and workers in illegal activity by writing reviews, it’s only the worker whose photos and contact info is made readily available. So, yes, arrests may certainly be a concern for clients, but let’s not act like they’re at the same risk that providers are. Not to mention the relative risk of assault/ coercion vs. being ‘ripped off’.

    One other thought: are any of you familiar with MaxFisch? It’s a review site/ forum for pro dommes, and it’s about a thousand times better than TER. That might a possible model for a new escort review site.

    • Absolutely agree–I think the pieces that have mentioned this as a factor are merely doing it for rhetorical purposes–i.e., playing devil’s advocate against themselves, attempting to have as fair and measured a perspective as possible while ultimately damning the boards. I think we all agree that the risk clients take is negligible compared to the one we take.

    • Up in Canada, 95% of all prostitution related charges are for communicating for the purposes of prostitution in public–so basically, it targets all street based sex workers.

    • I’m familiar with MaxFisch and while it has it’s good points, I think we should aim a little higher. Unfortunately that board has experienced some pretty serious moderation (or lack of) issues over the years. There’s some amazing ladies posting there but I’ve also seen content that’s potentially very damaging (real names/addresses etc) remain up for days.

  4. From a UK perspective this seems to be a feature of the criminalization and horrendous attitude to sex work and workers in the US. It seems that if reviews are so important for buisness then perhaps getting decent clients to boycott them is an solution. Is there any possibility of a US equivalent to national ugly mugs?

    • There are local, escort run equivalents–I helped co-found a private list for Western Mass–and there are paid but relatively cheap sites like 411. Still, under criminalization, it’s tough, b/c any gathering of sex workers advising each other run the risk of “promoting prostitution.” That’s my uninformed perspective from the boonies, anyhow.

          • Nice, I like the National SMS-based database Emi Koyama proposed, drawing on ALL these lists for information as well as information projects collect from street-based workers. This is scalable by city too, gets the overlap between different cities with clients as well as overlap between clients who see street-based sex workers and escorts like on backpage (to whatever extent, perhaps not huge but I think still there), can be accessed by pretty much anyone at any time including street based workers needing to do it quickly, with codes to it, and so on and so forth. Could be promoted heavily especially to street based workers but also something where all this info could be compiled together for widespread access. We have discussed some of this in meetings at SWOP Denver and people are planning to reach out to her about it. We also have our OWN bad date line up and running now.

          • But I also didn’t know about “Verify Him” and that stuff should be on there too as well as more well known among sex workers itself!!

  5. There are several free blacklists that providers can view, once they register at the websites. VerifyHim has a free blacklist, as does Safe Office. Verify Him also has the full listings of all the clients that have been posted on the National Blacklist. I highly recommend both sites. ProviderBuzz also used to be free, but that site has been down for several months now.

  6. Reviews were an evil necessity for me as well when I escorted full time, and I eventually had to stop allowing them after having my life threatened by some troll whom I never even met. Not to mention that getting fake reviews removed is very difficult especially if the moderator of the board has a hatred towards women, and LOVE seeing drama filled reviews.

  7. I’ve thought about this for years and finally came up with my idea of what a safe review site would look like:

    The only reason I’m not okay with detailing how a client behaved in a session (or including his physical details) is that it implies that sex for money took place. It would be easy to imagine how that would be used against the escort who left the review by police.

  8. Ho boy… huge dork moment. Prepare yourself: In firefly, the companions are actually heavily organized and even officially recognized by the planets for their job title often adding “legitimacy” to the otherwise nefarious activities a freelance ship might get into(told ya it was nerdy).

    There’s a certification, an academy planet to train them, and most importantly: a CLIENT BLACKLIST. Maybe years away, but it’d be nice if you ladies could get that level of organization (or if it exists already?). If a client fucks up, he gets blacklisted and will never be able to commission any other legitimate companion without that companion knowing he’s blacklisted.

    You mention already a client review board and that’d be good and probably hilarious-comedy gold is my bet. There’d have to be a severe check in place to ensure identity of the posters and keep it to workers only… Hmmm then the danger becomes that site possibly being used by the ole’ law enforcement community… But that’d tip the scales of power a bit. They give you a bad review? Fine, give them one back. They want to blacklist you? Fine, blacklist ’em back. And talk about their cock. Narrow in on their insecurity, you’ll know what that is-and threaten to exploit it. Turnabout is fair play and all that.

    • Don’t worry, the client blacklist in Firefly was one of the first things I thought of as well when reading this article! 🙂 I <3 Inara.

      • Ha! We’re friends now, her and mal are my heroes. 😀 Glad to see someone is on the same nerdy little page as me.

    • Hmmm, I don’t know, sex work is treated pretty weirdly in Firefly. The whole “companion” thing feels an awful lot like hookers who insist they are in fact courtesans, unlike those other skanky hos over there. And ‘certification’ is just like restrictive licensing structures and other regulatory measures that sex workers tend to hate (because they suck).

      And “us ladies” (ahem!) ARE pretty organized in that regard – various kinds of lists exist, and there are formal and informal ways of communicating to each other about bad clients. Obviously there’s room for improvement, but I don’t feel like we need to turn to Joss Whedon for advice on this one. We got this.

      • Also, I really hate Inara. I’m sorry everyone, but I do. She encompasses everything wrong with the SOPHISTICATED PROFESSIONAL sex worker identity (that term courtesy of Charlotte), and everything wrong with society’s obsessive need to draw lines between different kinds of promiscuous women in order to make sure you know it’s still bad to be a slut, even when you’re a hooker.

        • S’ok, not saying the handling of prostitution in Firefly isn’t flawed – I agree with everything you said about the whole courtesan vs hooker thing. My love for the character comes more from the fact that it’s just good to have a sex worker in sci fi/fantasy/pop-culture who for once isn’t a murder victim…or there for titillation and gritty atmosphere. *cough*Game of Thrones*cough*
          I don’t think anyone was saying we should turn to pop culture to solve our issues, but damn I wouldn’t mind working in Oldtown, in Sin City, where all the whores carry firearms and any client who causes trouble gets his ass sliced up by Miho! (and yes I know the depiction of sex work is also hella problematic in Sin City as well but I can fantasize about the parts I like. :P)

        • Having managed to “hatewatch” about four episodes of Firefly, I am so glad there are other SW’s out there who feel similarly about sex work and Firefly! (Seriously, my more-traditionally-geeky friends all told me to watch it because, “you’re just like Inara! that’s totally how you should run your business!” and “I was worried about your job until I watched Firefly…” so I went in expecting something at least halfway respectable..)

          • god yes, this, so many of my friends have told me I’d love Inara, that I’d love the idea of a licensed courtesan system, and I’m just like, “nope”.

  9. I’m a member of bestgfe.com. I’ve wrote a couple of reviews on massage places. I read more than I write. Some of the reviews are entertaining. I’ve read a lot of reviews. I read multiple reviews on the same ladies or places not because I want to know if there legit, I just want to know what happened. I’m just curious I guess. I never knew there were ladies against the review boards. Makes sense though now that I think about it. I know for sure I wouldn’t want to be reviewed in detail in a public forum. Jeez, I’m undecided now if I should write another review. That site is addictive though, maybe I’ll take a break from reading too. I don’t know.
    Thanks for this insight ladies and good luck with your future adventures.

    • “Hey so I read about how this is super damaging for your guys’s self-esteem and business and contributes to coercive rape, but it’s really *entertaining* for me, so I’ll have to think about whether I really want to be against it.”

      Cool words and stuff, Mike, but I’m not sure why you felt the need to share them. You CAN keep some thoughts just up in your head, you know, since they could sound really callous and self-obsessed and frankly unnecessary. But good luck with your future adventures!

  10. I’ve never relied on reviews or paid much attention to them at all. I understand the reason for their existence (to verify that a provider provides any semblance of the experience she advertises), but when clients ask how I feel about their writing one I let them know I think that too many of them are just tasteless rants by insecure men who have no other outlet for emotional release. Sex work is extremely subjective, and to pretend to objectively measure satisfaction in some kind of rating system is insulting and misleading. Nevertheless, I assure my inquiring clients that I trust them to use their best judgment. As a result, I don’t think I’ve accumulated more than 10 reviews in 6 years of sex work between two work identities.

    I’ve come to appreciate my own mystery, which is fed by the fact that I have no website, very few photos, I don’t reveal measurements of any kind, and I post ads sparingly. And business is quite good. This is undoubtedly due to many factors such as my geography, culture, and personal preference; I don’t pretend that it’s the norm for all sex workers.

    That said, I have only ever read as much as the free version of TER allows and never delved into the full reviews that only “VIPs” are entitled to. I’d probably cringe if I did. There is far too much allowance for unnecessary detail, that’s for sure. If only the opportunity for detail were stripped to the bare bones, the misogynistic stronghold review culture has on providers might lose its grip.

    I do think it is especially important that sex workers themselves gain some control of review boards due to the high risk that comes with the job. I’m thinking of a message board I know which requires you to participate/comment a certain number of times before you can even post anything yourself. Imagine the possibilities, DoucheCanoe82!

  11. I also read police reports where reviews (especially TER) are used in detail. But other sites also – guys who have almost no legal risks at least in AZ, are only after info on the details of what illegal sex acts were performed.

    Reviews in TER and some other boards have to be “juicy” to be accepted. Years ago all my TER reviews were rejected since not juicy enough – I am more interest in the intimacy side vs all the blow by blow description of illegal specific sex acts.

    It would be almost impossible to get them introduced at a trial as evidence but are used to confront the escort to intimidate her to take a plea. In Arizona, especially Phoenix the County Prosecutor Montgomery is going wild charging hundreds of in private escorts with felonies with long prison terms. Uses all sorts of pressure to get a plea deal for probation vs prison but with a lifetime felony record.

    In AZ busts are easy just from ads – GFE or worse – automatic solicitation of prostitution – 15 days minimum mandatory in jail on first offense if only one person. If associated with a group (two or more together) its a criminal enterprise felony.

  12. I’ve never relied on reviews or paid much attention to them at all. I understand the reason for their existence (to verify that a provider provides any semblance of the experience she advertises), but when clients ask how I feel about their writing one I let them know I think that too many of them are just tasteless rants by insecure men who have no other outlet for emotional release. Sex work is extremely subjective, and to pretend to objectively measure satisfaction in some kind of rating system is insulting and misleading. Nevertheless, I assure my inquiring clients that I trust them to use their best judgment. As a result, I don’t think I’ve accumulated more than 10 reviews in 6 years of sex work between two work identities.

  13. I wonder if the magic of the marketplace might not be able to put the cheesiest “Hobbyist” or “Review” sites out of business if a truly useful alternative becomes available. I’ve looked at a couple of these sites that I have seen mentioned here at T&S, and they left me feeling slightly soiled.

    If I were a prospective client, I think I might like a well-designed, well-moderated review site with enough structure so that it doesn’t decay into commodifying “Reviews”-cum-Blackmail-Attempts, but which did provide a sense of security for someone venturing into a new neighborhood, or a desire to try a new (and perhaps vaguely threatening or potentially embarrassing) type of service.

    Bear with me for a moment when I suggest that you glance at ratemyprofessor.com, which is a site for college students to warn their classmates off of crappy professors, or to praise good ones. The site is moderated, posters are responsible for what they say, the professor who is critiqued is encouraged to respond to unfair criticism, and there is sufficient structure (e.g. certain questions are asked and answered in every review) so that the posts don’t devolve into tale-telling self-aggrandizing bullshit. I know it’s faintly comical for me to suggest that a group of sex-working professionals model a website after a college-kids’ playground, but I am really just suggesting that you examine the structure to generate ideas and discussion.

    Zagat Restaurant Reviews started as a mimeographed (!) sheet that was mailed to 20 or 30 people, and now is worldwide and owned by Google. How did that happen? It was reliable, intelligent, and useful. It directed people to really nice restaurants that they might otherwise never have heard of, and warned them off the crappy overrated ones. If an ambitious group of sex workers designs a site that performs a similarly reliable service that remains under their own control so that it doesn’t become yet another oppressive and controlling entity, my feeling is that if you build it, they will come.

  14. My typical pattern for finding a provider is to check out ads on my local review board, then to focus on ads that have an appreciable number of reviews. I care very little for the content of the reviews, and I hate the objectifying 70-point checklist that seems to be the standard header, but the fact that there are reviews gives me some confidence that the person on the other end of the ad is who they say they are. Likewise, I can use my verified reviews as a starting point to help verify that I’m safe and am who I say I am.

    I’ve had providers ask me to leave certain details of our encounters out, or to mention certain things, and I always respect their wishes. I tend to keep the details of my reviews minimal – I used to feel guilty for that, like I was doing something wrong. Now, in retrospect, I’m glad I was discrete.

    So what’s the recommended system? Should I sign up for P411? How do I find providers in my area, beyond the local review site? I don’t want to try my luck on backpage.com and hope for the best…

    • The word is “discreet”, not “discrete”.

      It’s only necessary for you to sign up with P411 or Date-Check to prove YOUR identity to a provider. The benefit in you joining lies solely in you being able to keep some of your personal information like work info between you and the staff who pre-screens you, and not have to risk telling each new provider all that info.

      It is absolutely NOT necessary to join P411 and Date-Check to verify that a provider is “safe”. Most provider profiles on both sites are publicly viewable by anyone. And the very fact that a provider is ON those sites to begin with means she’s already been vetted by the staff and found to NOT be LE. If she’s on the site AT ALL, she’s “safe” (legally speaking at least).

      If a provider has been on any website like that for any length of time (my ad posts have “member since 2009” on them, and my P411 and Date-Check profiles have history, possibly even historical Google or wayback machine cached versions, as well as many mutual “okays”), it’s a given she cares about the quality of her services rendered, too. Long term providers don’t get to that point by leaving a trail littered with clients they went out of their way to intentionally piss off behind them.

      But my observation through the years is that the average client wants to justify seeing the fly by night sketchy looking new on the scene and possibly underage providers with little to no organized information (“thinking” only with the little head) but while feigning interest in a methodical, intelligent method of rationally looking at long term, proven providers. I’m not talking about the difference between 18 year olds and grandmothers but providers having obvious experience in the business, something a twenty something with a head on her shoulders is perfectly capable of (but then her sense of self becomes a turn off to the guys who, by and large on the “boards”, want to prey on the weak and coercible). Within literally seconds of a newbie showing up, there’s a stampede. Then anyone who gets understandably “ripped off” or in trouble by the traveling huckster who rolls out of town as quickly as they rolled in parlays the disappointment that they generated by their own obviously stupid choices into a justification for “review sites”. Too bad they’re a day late and a dollar short, and the young girl who will change her name and contact info and fake pics dozens more times has already flown the coop. And the providers who were always there doing a good job to begin with are left with the fallout of other people’s lunacy, as their privacy is chipped away at through zero fault of their own.

      Stay away from “too good to be true”s and here today/gone tomorrow providers (especially the ones who come across in their pics as self-absorbed teenage narcissists with ADHD), and chances are you won’t have any worries about getting “ripped off”. Common sense goes a long way.

  15. I really don’t see the need for a “review” to have anything more than the answers to two multiple choice questions:

    Were the pictures/information about appearance given by the provider a) accurate b) somewhat inaccurate c) very inaccurate?

    Were you a) very pleased b) somewhat pleased c) not pleased by your date?

    I personally am a very boring customer, so it’s hard for me to be fair to those seeking or wanting to market “kinks”. Maybe a reasonable way of handling this would be for reviewers to be allowed to create a screened profile listing their preferences. For example “I like to be anally penetrated with a dildo”. But “I would not be pleased at all unless …” would be screened out. Otherwise, any rating of “pleased” would be evidence for an accusation of prostitution.

  16. I’m old enough to have started hobbying back before there was an Internet. Back then, there were no reviews. However, providers still faced the threat of violence as verification was all but impossible. And, unfortunately, my guess is that people who would perpetrate violence against women will use the hobby to their advantage, no matter what.

    When review forums first emerged, the talk was over how dissatisfied so many hobbyists were with sessions. Out of 10 sessions, you might get two or three that went well. This was largely due to miscommunication and poor expectation setting on the part of both hobbyists and providers. After all, a small space ad in the back of a newsweekly couldn’t legally communicate services or the type of session one could expect. And no one has ever been comfortable discussing the details of a session over the phone.

    By sharing our experiences, we were able to improve the stats. Instead of walking into a situation blind, we walked in with some knowledge. This was a complete revelation, adding a level of transparency that had never existed in the hobby, unless you dared to share your secrets with other like-minded men, which was rare.

    I can’t really imagine a situation in which review sites will disappear. Groups of like-minded hobbyists will back-channel and information because it’s very much in their interest to do so. The supposition that clients have nothing to lose by having their identities publicly revealed is naive. We have families and business reputations that can be ruined, at the very least—the financial and emotional cost can be high. I’m not trying to equate this with a violent rape in the least. But let’s be clear that both ends of this business have something valuable at stake.

    I haven’t written a review in years simply because so many reviews I read are useless. They exaggerate, they lie, they embellish—they’re simply not reliable. However, when I did write reviews regularly, there was a certain excitement about rehashing the details and sharing them anonymously with others. It became part of the overall hobbying experience—part of the entertainment.

    These days, I guard my identity very closely. I never give out my handles from the review/forum sites, change my hobbying email frequently, as well as my burner phone (and phone number). Otherwise, I’ve been told many times that I’m an easy client. I’m just a very careful consumer.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.