Escorts: safety and services rendered an issue for workers

Escort services have become an attractive and lucrative profession for young, well-educated and good-looking Russian women. But some of them worry it is quite dangerous for their lives.

Single and in need of beautiful company? Are there events you need to attend as a couple, but you don't have your “plus one”? There are people willing to help with that.

The beauty of the escort business is they provide you with a choice of glamorous, educated, multi-lingual women, who will be more than happy to grace your side at any important event.

But many believe this business is not just skin deep.

“The girls who are engaged in these so-called 'escort services' get sexually abused a lot more often than prostitutes,” says Maria Mokhova, director of the charity fund Sisters for Sex Abused. “Because no one tells them they will have to perform sexual favors, or who they will be passed on to. Sometimes, the client who books an escort will simply bring the girl to his own clients, who will abuse her.”

However, women who are employed by escort services seem keen to disprove this notion.

Elena is an escort – and she does not worry about her safety at all.

“We meet clients, we show them Moscow. All our girls are educated, attractive, intelligent, and people enjoy our company. But there hasn't been a time when I felt scared, or concerned about my safety. Clients are vetted, and if a girl feels unsafe, she can always leave. So I'm not worried,” Elena says.

Still, she says she wouldn't tell her boyfriend about her chosen profession, because too often it is confused with prostitution and, many say, with good reason.

”All kinds of support for your business meeting,” claims the website of one escort agency. But the pictures that accompany the statement certainly show no support – and hint at a very illegal business.

Some believe the escort business can get you killed.

Yaroslava Tankova, a Russian newspaper journalist, went undercover for six months as an escort. What she saw certainly was not the fairytale promised in the ads.

“When I was working as an escort, I got invited to an ‘interview’ with the PA of a very rich and influential man. This was a pretty normal thing, so I wasn't scared. We sat there, talking about literature and music, and all of a sudden, he grabbed me and tried to force me to perform a sexual act,” recalls the special correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda. “I bit him and jumped off a balcony to escape. And the escort agency owner called me and started screaming at me for ruining her agency's relations with such an important client.”

Yaroslava was lucky. Others have not been so fortunate.

“They never talk about what they've gone through, these girls,” Yaroslava says. “Only if they get really drunk. The lucky ones simply get raped. The unlucky ones end up in hospital. And they never complain, because if you do, a very unpleasant accident can happen. Like a hit-and-run. Boom and you're dead.”

Complaining is the one thing these girls cannot afford to do.

“I remember a girl who told the truth about her life in a TV interview. About how they get raped, beaten, forced to hand over all their money. And the people that edited the documentary didn't change her voice, or cover her face, or anything,” says Irina Maslova, a sex workers rights activist. “A few days after the documentary aired, she was found killed.”

The glamour and the money are real, but the danger is even more so.