“Prostitutes have turned to the Internet and small, independently operated message boards as a means of empowerment.”

Oldest Profession 2.0: A new generation of local “providers” and “hobbyists” create a virtual red light district

An escort herself, the site’s creator says she founded STLASP in June of last year after moving to the St. Louis area from Southern California, where she’d been involved in a nearly identical online community. She found that the message board not only made her job safer by allowing her to screen her clients, it also created a tight-knit network of the region’s online escorts, providing a forum for them to share knowledge, including concerns about potentially dangerous johns.

“I’m trying to educate the women and give them a chance to feel safe and feel a connection with others that are in the same industry,” says the woman, who agreed to be interviewed for this story on the condition that she not reveal her real name and that she be referred to as “Mac.”

“There’s a lot of power in numbers. I’m trying to educate them to be as independent as they can and make smart choices.”

The idea of escorts on the Internet is nothing new — the oldest profession has long embraced 21st-century technology. But according to Stacey Swimme, co-founder of
sex worker-rights organizations the Desiree Alliance and the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Mac’s site is part of an emerging national trend: Prostitutes have turned to the Internet and small, independently operated message boards as a means of empowerment.

“From what I’ve been researching about the sex industry over the past 25 years, that is the biggest change,” Swimme says. “Providers are talking to each other. That is a force to be reckoned with. That is where political power comes from, is that sort of community-building.”