Facebook Offers New Service

MSNBC.COM - Everyone's on Facebook; why shouldn't prostitutes be there as well and use it to their business advantage? They are, according to a Columbia University professor, who says the social networking site is a key resource for ... well, social networking that way.

Sociology prof Sudhir Venkatesh spent a year gaining the trust of and tracking 290 prostitutes in New York to study the "contrasts between old-world prostitutes and new-age sex workers."

"Of the women I talked to, 61 percent said they've used craigslist, mostly for advertising," Venkatesh wrote in a piece published in Wired. "But even before the crackdown on the site's adult-services section, sex workers were turning to Facebook: 83 percent have a Facebook page, and I estimate that by the end of 2011, Facebook will be the leading on-line recruitment space."

Just as the Internet and mobile phones have changed our worlds, they've changed the worlds of those involved in the sex business,, he said:

No self-respecting cosmopolitan man looking for an evening of companionship is going to lean out his car window and call out to a woman at a traffic light. The Internet and the rise of mobile phones have enabled some sex workers to professionalize their trade. Today they can control their image, set their prices, and sidestep some of the pimps, madams, and other intermediaries who once took a share of the revenue. As the trade has grown less risky and more lucrative, it has attracted some middle-class women seeking quick tax-free income.

In the article, "How Tech Tools Transformed New York's Sex Trade," Venkatesh also noted that prostitutes who use BlackBerrys are considered, well, cleaner. "To clients, this symbol of professional life suggests the worker is drug- and disease-free."

The high-tech hooker also always carries two cell phones with her, as "Guys sometimes grab a woman's mobile to gain a sense of power and control," Venkatesh wrote. She "never carries" a cell phone "with any form of contact information."

High-tech or not, one thing remains the same for "old-world prostitutes and new-age sex workers" alike, he wrote. "Even women who don't work on the street report hiding their activities from their families and being abused."

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