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Companion for hire: one local escort talks about the business of sex

Story first published Aug. 25, 2010

Ms. Emily Marie has bouquets of roses and daisies throughout her Victoria condo. She’s currently reading the Dali Llama. She cries every time she watches The Notebook. She practices yoga and kickboxing and sleeps with her dog at night. She’s finally discovering her longstanding desire to work with pottery and sculpting. She’s also one of the highest paid escorts in the city.

We’re all too familiar with the weary woman standing on the corner, asking for anything just to get through the night. Or the 16-year-old girl who escaped from an abusive household only to end up trapped in a world of pimps and drugs. Their stories are all real. This, however, is not every story.

Marie, who advertises age 27, is from a small B.C. town. She graduated from college and trade school, and had been working an undisclosed professional job for years—a job she thought she was meant to do. But when she realized she wasn’t happy, it took her only a few weeks of investigating the internet to make the decision to start her own private business—in the sex trade. Now, after being a paid companion for over a year, Marie is thrilled by her work. She’s saving money like never before, she’s learning things she didn’t expect and she says she’s happy.

“My business is similar to other businesses. I started by picking out a name, getting a business cell phone, deciding where to advertise and getting a business license,” Marie says. “One of the things that’s come out of paid companionship for me is that I have much more confidence now. I feel I could effectively manage a business in another field having done so [as] Ms. Emily Marie.”

While most wouldn’t consider it your typical nine-to-five job, Marie does have strict rules. She only takes calls between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. for safety’s sake, except in rare circumstances. She won’t answer blocked numbers. She spends long enough on the phone to assess if she and the caller are a good match and, while it’s only been a year since she became a paid companion—the description she prefers—she has yet to be disappointed.

“Knock on wood, I am very fortunate. I meet very nice gentlemen,” she says. “But I really listen to my intuition.”

Marie mentions one phone call that raised the hairs on the back of her neck, and says she cancelled the appointment immediately.

“You should never feel like you have to take a call,” Marie says, admitting that she doesn’t consider herself street smart, but lives by her instincts. “If you were to be desperate in this job, it would have disaster written all over it.”

But when things go right, Marie is afforded time and money enough to enjoy. She only takes one to two calls a day and, at a rate of $250 to $350 per hour (as opposed to the industry average of $180 to $220), she can earn in a day what most people make in a week. With wages like that, a person could make between $75,000 and $100,000 per year. And, yes, Marie does file her taxes—as self-employed. She’s also inundated with gifts, bouquets and high-class evenings out.

Not your typical player

While loads of dough and a steady supply of sexy dates can sound glamorous, Marcela Mrnka knows there’s no such thing as your average fairy tale in the escorting world.

“There is no ‘typical’ in sex work,” says Mrnka, the executive director of the sexworker support group PEERS Victoria Resource Society. “One of the things we try really hard to do at PEERS is blow open the box. We’re tired of the stereotypes. There are a million different forms of sex work and there are a million different experiences of sex work.” (Indeed, Ms. Emily Marie agreed to appear in this article in her own effort to help break such stereotypes.)

Mrnka, who has an academic background in social work, emphasizes there is a huge difference between choosing sex as a job and being forced into it.

“Making an informed decision about going into sex work is like any other informed decision that a person has to make, whether it’s ‘Should I try heroin, or not?’ or ‘Should I become an airline stewardess as opposed to a nurse?’ A person needs to be mature enough emotionally and cognitively to make that decision,” says Mrnka.

Having said that, Mrnka—who was also in the sex trade, first as an exploited youth and then later by choice—admits that the choice theory flies out the window when talking about survival sex work. Being forced to pick between being evicted, feeding kids or turning a trick is not “choice” she says.

Still, Mrnka says this is not always the case—even a look through the escort ads in these pages will give a good indication that not all escorts fit the mould, she adds.

“I think what needs to be done in the media particularly, is to take away the stereotype of ‘every sex worker is a drug addict and has a history of sexualized abuse.’ That’s true for a lot of survival sex workers, but survival sex work—what we see on the street—makes up only 10 to 20 percent of sex work. The rest of it takes place behind closed doors.”

To buy or not to buy

While prostitution itself is not illegal in Canada, procurement is—that means you can sell, you just can’t buy.

“If you think that’s confusing, you’re not the only one,” says Mrnka. “Basically, just talking about sex work is illegal. If I was a sex worker, and you wanted to buy my services, it would be illegal to make a deal. But what’s really great about the whole thing—and I’m being really sarcastic here—is that escort agencies are licensed by the city. So they have a legal license to operate, and everybody knows what escorting means. But because of the confusing legalities around it . . . it criminalizes sex workers.”

While sex workers can’t be busted for standing on a street corner, they can be the minute someone starts talking to them, says Mrnka. That’s part of the reason jargon like “paid companion” is used—companionship is the provided service; what happens during that companionship is nobody’s business.

“Primarily, it’s the ‘upstanding citizens’ that are buying the services, but it’s the sex workers who end up with the criminal record,” Mrnka says. “It’s so hypocritical.”

With the stigma surrounding sex work, it’s often hard not to see sex workers as oppressed victims. But the choice, Mrnka says, has to be a personal one.

“The person providing the service is the only person who can make that decision about whether or not it’s right [for them]. Everything else is a moral judgment from the rest of us,” Mrnka says. “We do not make moral judgments at PEERS. We’re in the business of supporting people whether they want in, out or anywhere in between. And, if they want to stay in, we want to keep them safe.”

That safety isn’t just from customers or the pimps—it’s also from “moralists,” as Mrnka terms them, who endanger the lives of women and men in the business.

“Violence against sex workers—whether indoor or outdoor—is rampant. People have this notion that because someone has chosen, or not chosen, to be in this trade, it’s okay to moralize, threaten and, literally, beat the living daylights out of them,” says Mrnka.

It’s easy to picture an angry wife, mad at the woman who helped her husband stray. But Mrnka says it would make more sense to take that anger out on the perpetrator—the husband.

“Most of the time, the sex worker has no idea why the guy is there. She’s not a marriage counsellor—she’s a service provider,” says Mrnka. “But there’s that whole thing out there that she’s ‘a hooker’ and so we can lash out at her, whereas a woman might not lash out at the girl the husband is fooling around with at work.”

Ms. Emily Marie herself has received dozens of hate calls from women threatening her. It’s one of the reasons she won’t answer blocked calls or leave the house without her dog. It’s also the reason she’s more intimidated by telling women about her line of work than men.

“I’ve had women phoning me just to call me every name in the book and say that they were going to eff me up if I didn’t stay home,” Marie says. “You just have to keep your nose out of people’s business.”

Familiar bondage

The judgment of strangers isn’t all Ms. Emily Marie has to worry about. Since starting her new line of work, she’s been excluded from her tight-knit family—the worst hardship for her.

“My parents and siblings don’t like or accept what I do,” Marie says. “I’ve become much more distant from them, and felt much less loved by them, since I began this last year. I do believe that they’re well intentioned; they have their own belief systems and values, and they’re worried about my safety. But it’s been very difficult.”

In many ways, Marie is forced into a split life. She has two names, two birthdays, two phone numbers and a stock of bed sheets that is constantly changing. She also has what she describes as a loving life partner who she met when she began her business—but he’s seldom mentioned when it comes to pleasing other’s fantasies.

“It’s very mysterious,” she says. “The funniest thing [about escorting] is having two identities. It makes your life complicated. And it makes me very cautious.”

That said, Marie says she still tries to remain authentic, in and out of the work place. “I put my safety and privacy above all else, but when people come to see me for work, I have many of the same conversations that I have when I meet friends or others socially.”

When it comes to real friends aside from her life partner, though, Marie says it’s hard to have them.

“I get support from others who have been in the business, but it’s hard to have friends while being in this industry, because the worst thing is disappointing friends,” she says. “If you make plans, then you might miss a really good opportunity with someone you had a great time with and who is just back in town for the night. It’s tough. And it’s the hardest thing I struggle with on a daily basis.”

Marie has to field both that always-on feeling and a tremendous amount of free time. Her work, and her cell phone, never leave her. Even while we’re talking, she pauses to answer the phone four times and draws a bath to get ready for work. She says she spends a lot of time alone.

“There is always prep work you can be doing: buying candles, sheets and supplies. You go for lunch, go shopping, get your nails done, answer the phone, go to the beach with your dog, go swimming in the ocean everyday for, like, four hours. But you make sure you’re close.”

Marie actually spends most of her free time working on her other passion: art. She’s invested herself into pottery, thread work and textiles, and hopes to eventually open up her own lingerie studio. Meanwhile, her dog, who she rescued from the SPCA, is her best confidant—and whether it’s obedience training or just walking along the beach, the two spend little time apart.

The working woman

Given the inherent ups and downs of paid companionship, the question remains: is it all worthwhile? Marie says the main reason she stays is because the job is fun and just feels right.

“There were times in my life when I felt really starved of social contact with others. Now, I have the opportunity to meet all sorts of interesting people from different backgrounds and get various different views on life. I can’t even tell you how much this has helped me personally,” she says. “Often, I’ll be struggling with a certain issue in my life and the right person comes around at just the right time to help me sort through it.”

Marie believes the benefits are also two-fold.

“In one of my [online] reviews, the individual said something to the effect that spending time with me just made him feel better about himself . . . and a lot of times, men spend more time pleasing you than you do pleasing them.”

Marie acknowledges that, just like in any career, she won’t likely be escorting forever, though she hopes the reputation carries on for a few years yet.

“I’m never going to change my [business] name. So, I’ll always be Ms. Emily Marie and hopefully the reputation will stay strong,” she says. “I can’t say where I’m going to be in my life in a few years, but, right now, this is working.” M

Editor's note: to see our one-year follow up on Ms. Emily Marie, read the August 2011 article, "Fantasy girl: one year later."

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