The world’s oldest profession just got harder and more dangerous, according to local call girl Roxanne (not her real name), who claims the recent loss of Craigslist’s adult services tab has cut her business and forced her to take risks she otherwise wouldn’t.
“I’m screwed because Craigslist closed its adult services section,” she said without a hint of irony. “That guy [from Craigslist, who willingly closed the section] is a fool. It wasn’t even California’s attorney general who contacted him. This is going to affect a lot of call girls.”
Roxanne began hooking five years ago after her marriage dissolved and she needed a way to pay for college.
“I was married for 13 years and faithful for 12 and a half,” she said, explaining she met her first john in a chat room, where she also learned about Craigslist.
“I bill myself as a cougar,” said Roxanne, who appears to be in her mid-40s. “I looked at other girls’ ads to see what they’re missing and to find my niche. I try to sound more mature and educated.”
Roxanne defends her profession by claiming it doesn’t hurt anyone and it’s between consenting adults.
“Everything I’ve done I’ve done in private,” she said. “I’m not a streetwalker. I don’t think men should be approached in a bar and propositioned. My encounters have been arranged in private on a website that requires visitors to declare they’re 18 or older.”
The Craigslist adult services section was removed on Sept. 3 amid pressure from 17 state attorneys general. Leading the charge was Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who subpoenaed the site in May claiming that Craigslist was not doing enough to control prostitution ads.
Tech media outlets quoted Blumenthal referring to Craigslist as a booming “brothel business” that was profiting off of sex ads—adult services ads came at the price of $10 per ad.
By September the adult services section was blocked with a censored bar and as of press time had been removed completely from the Craigslist home page.
Before Craigslist took down the section, Roxanne worked about three times a week, up to three clients a day. She charged $200 an hour for her services but gave discounts to regulars. Sometimes she’d meet in motels; other times johns would come to her Pismo Beach apartment.
She liked Craigslist because johns were local and she could screen them over the phone.
“If there was even a hint of disrespect or anger, I’d just hang up,” she said. “The phone call screened out 90 percent of the potential bad.”
Her system worked well. She rarely had problems with her clients—aside from getting ripped off a few times.
“After I learned to get the money up front, that didn’t happen anymore,” she explained.
Since Craigslist shut down its adult services section, Roxanne has been trying to find new johns through myredbook.com and backpage.com, but neither site is specific to SLO County.
“It scares me to meet new people now,” she said. “I hate the thought of getting busted in my apartment.”
In fact, Roxanne did get busted last December through a bogus solicitation via Craigslist.
“I ignored all the red flags,” she said of the phone call, which turned out to be from an undercover Pismo Beach police officer, whom she later met in a motel room.
When she had her day in court, she surprised everyone, including the judge, by pleading guilty. The judge urged her to plead innocent, but she refused.
“I was guilty. And the Pismo Beach cops had no idea I was going to plead guilty, but I wanted to have my say.”
Her say included revealing that she’d called the Pismo Beach Police Department to accuse two police officers of a crime, and she believed the department was going after her in retaliation.
“Two weeks after I reported what I’d seen, they set me up. They’d known about me since March of 2008 when I was arrested for passing a phony $100 bill. But I fought that because I didn’t know it was phony,” she said. “When I’m not guilty they want me to plead guilty, and when I’m guilty, they want me to plead innocent.”
She was found not guilty of passing the $100 bill in her 2008 case, and her prostitution charge was reduced to a misdemeanor. Still, being arrested has compounded her problems.
“Once you get busted, a lot of guys won’t call you anymore because they’re afraid you’re being watched by the cops,” she said. “It’s rather difficult to get work now.”
Going old school
Ironically, the closure of Craigslist’s adult services section has made the police’s job harder, too. The San Luis Obispo Police Department has traditionally used Craigslist to conduct its stings, for example. So what’s going to happen without that tool?
Lt. Tom DePriest said the loss of Craigslist probably won’t have much impact. Then again, the department hasn’t conducted any stings for several months, and probably won’t put together another one until at least next year.
“Honestly, we just haven’t had the time to pursue putting an operation together,” DePriest said.
Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rob Bryn was a little more cryptic when posed the same question.
“We do them several different ways,” he said of prostitution stings. “I’m not going to describe how we do it, but it’s fairly obvious, whether it be Craigslist or New Times or other ways of publicizing it on the Web.”
The department’s last sting was conducted in Pismo Beach in June, when police arrested two women on suspicion of prostitution at a massage parlor. Then, using a decoy Craigslist ad, police nabbed another suspect at a nearby motel.
In Bryn’s perspective, Craigslist desensitizes people to crimes against women and the impact on children: “Prostitution is a violent crime—a lot of people think it’s not,” he said.
Ultimately, the loss of Craigslist to bait unwitting johns will force police to revert to stinging prostitutes the old-fashioned way.
“Obviously Craigslist was rife—it was a target-rich environment,” Bryn said. “However, this has been going on longer than Craigslist. We may have to go back to some older ways of doing things, on that particular site at least.”
As for Roxanne, she’ll use other sites and “hope for the best.”
“It’s been really, really slow, and anyway, I’m seriously trying to get away from it,” she said. “I never wanted to do this, but how am I going to make this much money? Am I going to go work at Taco Bell for minimum wage?”
Glen Starkey is a staff writer, and Colin Rigley is news editor. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.