“I’m a published short-story writer, freelance editor, and I do high-end escort work. Guess which one pays the bills?”. That’s what Hillary Rankin’s bio reads on her Quora profile, where the escort is particularly active in answering specific questions people may have about her side profession. Interested and curious to learn more from Rankin, I decided to get in touch with her in order to answer any questions you may have about what being a high-end escort truly means.
“I had a friend who worked with the group. She suggested it to me. When I first started doing it I only worked occasionally, but enjoyed it and gradually got more and more involved. No real reservations, but there was definitely a learning curve and sort of a personal re-defining of my own comfort levels. Not just about sex, but about a lot of things.”
Unlike other escort girls, Rankin and her group don’t use popular online platforms such as Escort Babylon or Babylon Girls to advertise their profile or find new clients. “We’re pretty much all word of mouth,” she shared. Rankin describes herself as a “high-end escort”, which differs from other types of escort work.
“More money, fewer clients, and in general we have a very good clientele. Well vetted, well behaved, well off financially.”
“We have some girls who only date two to three times a month, and some girls who work five times a week. So the pay varies a lot. I see an average of three clients a week, but that varies a lot of course. An in-town date can be anywhere from an hour to a whole afternoon or evening. We also do some travel work, which means we can be gone with a client for a week or more at a time. I was offered the chance to buy into the agency, and being an owner, I also put in a certain amount of time doing management and administrative work.”
When asked about the safety of her job, Rankin explained, “We obviously let someone know when we’re seeing a client and where we are. And we make sure the client knows that we’re in contact throughout the date. All our girls learn some basics about how to handle yourself in an unsafe situation. Frankly, being proactive and making sure the client knows what the expectations are ahead of time takes care of problems though. And our clients are generally very well vetted. Most of them are regulars, and value their own reputations within our group, so they know how to behave.”
“Some yes, some no. A lot of my best friends are women I work with, so there’s a built-in friend/support group there. Some of my non-escort friends know, some don’t. My sister used to work with us too, but no longer does. My mom didn’t know at first but does now. She was initially appalled, but now thinks it’s kind of cool.”
“The other women I work with.”
“Nothing really terrible—clients who are boring or arrogant. It comes with the territory. Then they give you money, and you go home.”
“Don’t do it unless you genuinely enjoy sex. Find the right agency and client base (which is not easy to do). Set your standards wherever you think they should be, but once you do, don’t lower them.”
On Quora, Rankin promotes openness about her work through witty yet honest answers to some of the most varied questions you’ll find. When asked about what’s in her nightstand drawer, the escort gladly replies, “Basically magazines and sex toys. The former tend to be The Atlantic (which I subscribe to) and various (literary/ideas/current events) things I pick up when I travel. The latter are just a few small things I use by myself when I don’t feel like getting out of bed and going to the toy chest. If I have a partner over, there’s generally more discussion about what we want to do and how we want to do it, but the nightstand is a good place for something to get off with if I’m alone and horny and don’t want to get out of bed.
Thanks for asking, too, by the way. In looking through my drawer, I also found a remote to the ceiling fan that I had forgotten I had, a bottle of Tylenol, and a wine opener. All of which seem like they could come in handy, so now that I’m aware of their presence, I may get out of bed slightly less often.”
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Are you more curious about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on escorts? Rankin has got something to share here too, “In the obvious way that both clients and sex workers are understandably a lot warier about interacting with people. We have some girls who are still working a fair amount, but most (like me) are only seeing a few regular clients, and only those who we know a bit about their personal life to know they’re not in an at-risk profession or lifestyle. And yeah, I know, there’s still an inherent risk here, but there are also bills to pay. You try to make smart choices.
But maybe even more is the lack of business travel. Obviously, depending on the type of escort work you do, a huge part of the business is men who travel for work, who are looking for a little fun when they’re in a hotel away from home. Some of these are regulars, some are not. But just like hotels and bars and restaurants and lots of other hospitality businesses that cater to business travellers, ours has taken a hit.”
As engaging as Rankin is online, she’s also not afraid to put people asking problematic questions back in their place. For example, one user asked her “Why is there such a backlash against ‘slut shaming’? Isn’t sleeping around a bad thing regardless of gender?” to which Rankin cleverly replied: “Why do you think sex is such a bad thing? Sex is like most human interactions: you should be informed, you should make good choices, and you should be aware that there can be potential downsides (physical, mental, and emotional) to your choices. Like anything in life, sex comes with certain responsibilities. Like most human interactions, sex is also a really great thing too! It’s empowering, it forms connections (whether for an evening or a lifetime), and it’s pretty damned fun!
You can choose to have sex a lot, with a lot of different partners, or you can choose to be very selective about who you sleep with. No, ‘sleeping around’ is not a bad thing, and who gets to define it? One woman’s ‘sleeping around’ is another woman’s natural expression. It’s your choice, just like it’s my choice to practice my sexuality how it fits in with my needs and wants, and to be proud of my choices. I won’t have other people’s definitions of ‘morality’ decide what’s appropriate for me.”
From being asked whether she ever peed on someone’s face (she has) to what the difference between being pansexual and bisexual is, Rankin’s Quora profile is one of the rare safe places online where discussions are started without judgement and questions are answered non aggressively. By answering most of the questions she receives, the high-end escort—be that knowingly or not—plays her part in tackling taboos surrounding her side profession.
If like me you have an unlimited amount of questions that need answers, feel free to message Rankin on her Quora page—educate yourself, it’s fun. Because you can be sure that assumptions are, more often than not, far from the truth.
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This summer, Peruvian-born Vanesa Campos was murdered at the hands of five men in the streets of Paris. Who was to blame? According to the activists and sex workers who rallied together following her tragic death, it’s less a question of “who” and more “what”. Namely, the finger was pointed at legislation in France which seeks to curb prostitution by targeting sex workers’ clients.
Implemented in April 2016, the laws threaten customers with fines of up to €1,500, and sees France adopt the Nordic model already in place across Scandinavia and other countries like Canada, Iceland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Clearly, the thinking behind these measures is that such a system can curb prostitution whilst also avoiding the legal persecution of sex workers. However, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry—and that’s certainly the case here. Sex workers’ rights advocates have convincingly argued that the measure has made working conditions significantly less safe. According to them, clients now pressure and coerce sex workers into riskier situations due to concerns about being discovered by the police.
Furthermore, while the legislation may gesture in the direction of a more humane attitude toward sex workers, it ultimately perpetuates their marginalisation by maintaining the illicit status of their work. The law basically feeds upon the kind of rhetoric which classes all sex work as forms of violence against women, heavily stigmatising those who purchase prostitutes’ services. It’s important to recognise that arguments like these only serve to belittle sex workers and are nothing more than an attempt to minimise escorts’ sexual and professional agency. Yes, there are many sex workers who are subject to abusive labour conditions, but more often than not these are a direct result of the precarity produced by illegality.
Whenever we see a salacious headline about another male celebrity “caught” with an escort, it only serves to harden attitudes against sex work and, by extension, sex workers. Demonising those who purchase sex is just another tactic to stir up moral panic and ensure that those who offer their services are never able to do so in safe environments or unionise to fight for better conditions. Criminalising the purchase of sex is still just another violent measure against sex workers, one that threatens their livelihood and puts their lives in danger, all whilst pretending to have their best interests at heart.
Concerningly, however, despite its many downfalls, the Nordic model appears to have hopped over the pond to take root in the U.K.. Earlier in the year, the London borough of Redbridge implemented new rules which give plain-clothes police officers the power to distribute fines of up to £1,000 to those found trying to buy prostitutes’ services. Rightly enough, advocacy groups have been keen to speak out about this matter. One of these is Organisation National Ugly Mugs (NUM), a group which aims to end violence against sex workers.
Speaking to local newspaper the Ilford Recorder, a spokesperson from the group said, “We feel that such action could lead to sex workers being displaced and working in areas in which it is less safe for them to do so. This increased vulnerability means that sex workers are more likely to fall victim to dangerous offenders, as was Mariana Popa, a 24-year-old woman who worked in the borough and was murdered in 2014 during a period of similar heavy enforcement from police.”
At the end of the day, legislation which seeks to fine or punish punters but seemingly spare prostitutes is still just another form of criminalisation, and one which is notoriously negative for sex workers. As Dr Holly Davis, a professor of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh who specialises as a researcher in the field of sex work, puts it, “We must exercise caution in supporting carceral approaches to sex work. Criminalizing purchase does not achieve safer conditions for sex workers rather it can have a profound negative impact; the further marginalization of workers leaves them more vulnerable to violence, harassment, and stigmatization. The Nordic model ultimately doesn’t address the larger patriarchal cultural, social, economic and political systems which perpetuate and support violence against women and/or more specifically violences towards sex workers.”
As Davis convincingly argues, the Nordic model doesn’t offer an “ethical” framework for criminalisation, because ethical criminalisation just doesn’t exist. Operating under the shadows of illegality, sex workers are currently denied basic workers’ rights—and this definitely won’t stop, even if the weight of persecution falls on the person buying rather than selling.
Moreover, arguments that the Nordic model combats sexual exploitation could not be further from the mark. Reasoning such as this rests on the dangerous conflation of sex trafficking and consensual sex work, one which leads to paternalistic policing rather than any effective measures to help trafficking victims. Legislative frameworks such as these do little to prevent trafficking given that they in no way constitute an attack on organised crime. Ultimately all that it does is make working conditions considerably less safe.
It’s time to wake up to the fact that the Nordic model is nothing more than another moralistic effort to clamp down on sex workers’ livelihoods. If legislators truly want to make escorts safe, they need to avoid all forms of criminalisation and ultimately recognise sex work as a valid form of work. We need to stop tinkering with a broken system and start taking decisive action. It is vital that we push for the only solution to improve the lives of sex workers: complete decriminalisation.