CALL GIRL BUSINESS HIGH PAY SHORT CAREER
N.Y. governor resigns (3/12)
Video: Press conference
Kathleen Pender San Francisco Chronicle
I don't know which is more surprising: That caped crusader Eliot Spitzer allegedly had sex with a call girl, or that he paid her $4,300.
If you haven't been in the market for a prostitute lately, that might sound like a lot of money. But it's pretty typical for a high-priced call girl in a big city.
The Emperor's Club VIP, the New York agency Spitzer allegedly used to hire a prostitute, charged $1,000 to $3,100 per hour for its so-called models, depending on their "education, sophistication and ambience created," according to a cached version of the club's Web site, which has been taken down.
The club's "most valued clients" were offered membership in the Icon Club, which allowed them access to "the most highly ranked prostitutes whose fees started at $5,500 per hour," according to a complaint filed in federal court for the southern district of New York.
Spitzer allegedly arranged a four-hour date with "Kristen" - identified by the New York Times on Wednesday as Ashley Alexandra Dupre - in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 13. It was the night before Valentine's Day and his testimony before Congress on bond insurance.
His $4,300 payment appeared to include $1,500 to be put on deposit with the Emperor's Club for his next rendezvous.
A low-end rate for club
Spitzer ended up spending no more than 2 1/2 hours with Kristen, according to a timetable in the complaint. That would put Kristen's hourly rate on the low end for the Emperor's Club, but more than your average hooker.
"What we're talking about here is high-end escorting," says Veronica Monet, a former prostitute who quit in 2004 to write a book on the subject. In that market segment, $1,000 per hour "sounds pretty average to me," she says.
Monet says there are three basic ways to make a living as an escort: work for an agency, set yourself up in business or walk the streets. The pay, and the risk, varies depending on the city and type of work.
"If you start working for an agency, you are probably young and inexperienced, probably doing it part time on the side. You're kind of on call. If you are not available, they pick another girl. If there's no work, you don't get paid. It's great if you are young and not sure this is what you want to do," Monet says, but most women don't last more than a few months with an agency.
The agency typically keeps 40 to 60 percent of the fee; the escort gets the rest.
"If you are serious about (escorting) as a profession, you will get a Web site, get an 800 number, market yourself and get your own fan base," Monet says. "A lot of women go into it for a second career. They are frustrated with their job situation. They want to be an entrepreneur, start their own company."
Melissa Gira Grant, another former sex worker, says, "A mid-range online escort who books her own clients makes $200 to $300 an hour."
In San Francisco or Los Angeles, she might charge $300 to $500 per hour, Monet says.
Grant's rule of thumb: "If you look at what a lawyer makes (in a particular city), that's what an escort makes," she says.
Street prostitutes generally charge $150 to $200 but will take less if they are "desperate for crack," Monet says.
A hard-working prostitute can make six figures a year. But the profession, needless to say, is risky.
"The biggest risk is getting arrested, having to deal with the shame, fines, court dates. If you rent, you can get evicted" if you are arrested for prostitution, Monet says.
For a first-time conviction, you might pay several hundred dollars in fines. For a third conviction, you're doing jail time, she says.
Cops ignore home workers
Monet says police seem to target street prostitutes and high-end agencies and ignore women working out of their homes.
Streetwalkers, often low-income minority women, are rounded up - often as part of gentrification campaigns - because they are highly visible.
High-end agencies are targeted because that's where the money is.
"When you run an agency, you are breaking all kinds of federal laws. They can take everything you own. They can have a huge press conference. It looks better than busting some lonely escort working at her apartment," Monet says.
Prostitutes also run the risk of disease and getting abused by their patrons or pimps. In her 14 years as a prostitute, Monet says she ran into a predator only once. The best way to avoid trouble is to "use your intuition" and remain clean and sober.
Monet was married and living a typical suburban lifestyle when she was a self-employed escort.
She says she always paid her taxes, listing herself "as a consultant. My girlfriend called herself a personal trainer." Cheating the Internal Revenue Service "is where you go down."
Monet, now divorced and living in Nevada City, says the Internet has transformed prostitution, making it easier for escorts and clients - and law enforcement if they're interested - to find each other.
Grant says the Emperor's Club "advertised all over the Web. As recently as last week, they were on Eros-Guide.com. New York Elites was another high-profile agency that was busted. They were very open about it."
The Internet is where most clients find prostitutes these days, "especially someone of (Spitzer's) status," Grant says. "There's an illusion of privacy."
Grant is now a writer and consultant to St. James Infirmary, a free clinic for sex workers in San Francisco. She knows that many wealthy, prominent men frequent call girls but was still surprised to see Spitzer implicated, considering he prosecuted prostitution rings when he was New York's attorney general.
"It's someone I thought would have a decent idea of how prostitution investigations work," she says. "Maybe he thought he was untouchable. There's an incredible amount of hubris among these high-end clients."
Norma Hotaling is a former sex industry worker who founded the Sage Project, a San Francisco non-profit working to end sexual exploitation of children and adults. Sage provides counseling and other services to sex workers and their clients, and Hotaling has seen plenty of men like Spitzer hire prostitutes.
What do they have in common?
"Needing to feel in control, a sense of power. In his case, just feeling omnipotent. Inside there's a big dark hole that's not filled and he doesn't know how to fill it. He's going to people (like Kristen) who are lying to him, saying I understand you and your needs. Your wife, your family, other people don't," Hotaling says.
"The more obsessive and compulsive it gets, the more money they're spending (on call girls) that should be going toward their family and food. One man said he went through a $60,000 trust fund on phone sex. On phone sex!"
Career with a short life
Prostitution - like pro sports - is a short-lived career.
If you are "really, really taking care of yourself, you might make it to age 40," but not past, Hotaling says.
She tries to help young sex workers see what they are giving up in the way of job and life skills.
"I see women at 40 who had some (success) and now are working in hard-core, very violent pornography for $5 an hour because they wasted the prime of their life," she says.
Net Worth runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail Kathleen Pender at firstname.lastname@example.org.