Canadian Press
Monday, March 8, 1998

Net sex

Internet a powerful marketing tool for some young hookers

VICTORIA (CP) -- After a few years as a prostitute, Michael Mackey took a ride on the information highway to sell sex. Business jumped about 75 per cent.

"A lot of my friends in the business prefer the Internet", Mackey, 22, told an international conference Monday.

"You're not out on the street. There's no risk of being hurt. They can pick and choose their clients."

Hookers post notices or create web pages advertising their services, then set up dates with clients. Mackey promoted himself as a "smooth, pierced, open to discreet fun, reasonably priced."

The Seattle resident, who quit prostitution four months ago, is among 54 past and present sex-trade workers as young as 14 attending a summit on sexually exploited youth.

Police and Internet experts agree the web is becoming an effective way for hookers to flog sexual services.

"It's going on more now than ever", says Cameron Martens, 26, who spent five years as a hooker in Calgary and Vancouver.

"(The Internet) is more accessible. Your business is larger. There's more money", said Martens, who's now a hairdresser.

The Internet boom, said conference co-chair Cherry Kingsley, was sparked in part by public pressure to get prostitution off the streets.

"Newspaper ads, Internet ads, apartments being rented for the purposes, trafficking in children -- all of the indoor secretive stuff has increased dramatically", said Kingsley, 28, a former teen hooker in Vancouver.

Police face a difficult time clamping down because there are few Internet laws.

Julian Fantino, police chief in London, Ont., said the appeal of the web for prostitutes is anonymity.

"You don't have to stand on a street corner", he said in an interview from London. "There's concern about being exploited by a pimp."

But Fantino said he suspects web-oriented hookers are few in comparison to all prostitutes.

"Much of prostitution is down on the street or in body rub parlors, or escort services. It's still an activity that takes place on the street."

The sad fact, said Jim Carroll, a Toronto-based Internet analyst, is the sex trade is one of few sectors that has figured out how to make money from the web.

"The whole field of porn - especially prostitution - is one area where the Net has been very successful."

It worked for Mackey, who says he stumbled into prostitution at 15 to raise money to kick a heroin habit.

One night in downtown Seattle a passerby offered to buy sex. Mackey said yes.

"It started the ball rolling", he recalled.

Eventually, he began using speed and he needed more money.

"The more speed I used, the more tricks I turned."

His mother worked in the computer industry, so he knew about them. He bought an IBM Aptiva and set up his own web page, eventually doing the same for about 30 other prostitutes.

His site sometimes included nude photos of himself.

Mackey left prostitution after becoming an outreach worker and confronting some unsettling truths about his life.

"I got to see what I was doing from the other side."

Copyright © 1998 by Canadian Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.