Some of the Bay Area's sex workers are also self-described geeks and marketing whizzes who use Game of Thrones t-shirts ("Winter is Coming") and savvy social media marketing to grow their businesses and establish agency in an industry where workers are too often either victimized or criminalized.
It's no surprise that a region where a sizable population is flush with cash has a thriving adult services industry. What's more intriguing is how those in the industry are using both the tools and the language of the area's tech startups to build their businesses — and to try to change the public perception of their work.
Kitty Stryker [above], a self-described "steampunk courtesan" who rents her time for $350 an hour on up, has a day job as a social media marketer for a local startup. She uses the same apps to grow her evening business.
"Everything I know about social media marketing I learned doing sex work," she says. "Currently I'm using Hootsuite a lot; I'm using Klout a little bit. I also use Twitter [counter], which is just this simple free thing, but it's got very interesting analytics data."
Most people don't automatically think "sex worker!" when they hear someone say, "I have a Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, I have two websites, and I have Google Voice." But why? Those tools work just as well for publicizing cam shows and shoots as they do for less titillating endeavors — they draw users, and high-paying users, at that.
"There's a lot of competition to get the big-name clients," said "Karen," who estimates that she's made close to $1 million over the decade she's been working in the area. "When you do land them, I've heard of women getting condos, whatever they need."
There's a less tangible but perhaps just as satisfying goal, too: control. "Josephine" said the sex work industry's online presence used to be limited to guys looking for women to hire — now, increasingly, women call the e-shots.
"I'm beta-testing a program right now, a national registry for sex workers," Josephine said. "I go in and put in information about my clients in a very discreet and very secure way."
#revolutionary. And necessary for ambitious sex workers, since the law hasn't caught up to technology or sex worker's rights.
Although San Jose's Human Trafficking Task Force focuses on stopping coerced prostitution, according to this article, which notes the vice unit was disbanded in 2011 because of budget constraints, prostitution arrests in the area rose 35% last year — and sex workers say the passage of Proposition 35, which expand the definition of and increases penalties for human trafficking, will only make things worse in 2013.
Still, sex workers like Josephine say business is booming.
"It's interesting to hear on the news about the economy and how it's recovering," she says. "If you were to gauge by my business, it's recovering a lot faster."