Last month I learned all about Smooci, an app for escorts that has been referred to in the media as the ‘uber for escorts’. It started with a tweet. A PR was calling for bloggers/influencers who would be interested in attending a ‘sex-positive’ event.
I am a liberal, free-thinking and young(ish) woman and I wanted to know more, so I dropped her an email introducing myself. The first line of her reply made me instinctively think ‘NOPE’.
She wrote: “Our client, Smooci, are hosting an exciting upcoming event in London. Smooci is a next-generation escort booking platform bringing much needed change to the industry; offering a live booking experience, with enhanced client and escort verification software, this platform is prioritising the safety of its users.”
The rest of the email sparked my intrigue and changed my mind. The event itself, which took place at the end of July in Hoxton, made me feel ashamed of my initial reaction on an app for escorts.
The UK Law on escorting and prostitution
The email went on to explain that Smooci “is designed to give escorts full control” and that it is “empowering sexually liberated women who wish to pursue escorting in a friendly environment”.
Women can set their own prices, pictures, services and even read reviews of potential clients from other women. Men using the app pay a subscription fee, so the women don’t give up any percentage of what they make.
You might be questioning whether escorting, particularly prostitution (which is referred to by sex workers as ‘full-service’), is legal in the UK. The answer is yes, yes it is.
However, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 a number of related activities – soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, owning or managing a brothel, pimping and pandering – are crimes. This is why Smooci’s features really matter.
Not only is the app making the initial process easier and safer, women can even turn on tracking in the app and allow a designated person to view their movements. The app will also beep when the appointment is over, so the person keeping an eye can see if they should have left already but haven’t.
This is particularly important because, as I learned on the night, if you ask somebody to be in the same location as you when you meet a client to ensure your safety, under UK law that location is now a brothel. This leaves sex workers with two choices: A. Have somebody there for safety, but be unable to do anything if something goes wrong because you are technically running a brothel, thereby breaking the law, so have no recourse available to you; or B. Work alone and risk your safety, but at least you can go to the police if something happens… Not great options, are they?
The event – app for escorts and myths surrounding their work
Last night’s panel consisted of one of America’s biggest porn stars and comedienne Silvia Saige, UK cam girl Lily Roberts, Ivonne who is a fourth-generation escort living in London and using Smooci, AdultPR’s managing director Sarah Ryland, and BBC Radio 1 presenter, sex expert and sex educator Alix Fox.
Silvia led the discussion and (imo) it was her and Lily who gave the most insight and busted a load of myths surrounding sex work.
They dismissed the idea of sex workers being desperate women who are in financial or emotional crisis. Silvia spent her 20s working in healthcare in corporate American and got into the industry when she was 30; she explained that she knows so much more about her sexuality now. She had a wonderful childhood, doesn’t have daddy issues (which is apparently a common assumption), in fact her family and friends know what she does and she says their biggest qualm isn’t that she does it, but what people think of her due to the stigma.
Lily is the same, she says her family know what she does and are at peace with it. She explains that she struggled with the typical working world and struggles to be around people. Working at home, for herself, not only overcame those problems but also helped her with confidence and anxiety.
She also noted that support for sex workers was dwindling across the UK due to cuts by the Conservative Party – her nearest support organisation has recently gone for a team of 14 to three.
The group called out the nonsensical nature of laws that promise to help women which do the opposite, combined with reduction in important services.
The evening successfully ignited an important conversation and opened my eyes, and my mind, to the reality (and mythology) surrounding sex work in the 21st Century. Can you see, now, why my initial reaction brings me shame?