Prostitution has been in the headlines this year since the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s prostitution laws last December, giving the government a year to write new ones. But between booking ads, hotels and doing a surprising amount of laundry, some of the people most affected by the changes have the least time to deal with it.
Melody, a 29-year-old from British Columbia, is a touring escort, who travels from town to town, offering a service called “the girlfriend experience,” which is a type of sex work more personalized than traditional escort services.
In April she advertised for a few days at a time in Edmonton, Lac La Biche, Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Edson and Lloydminster, according to her Twitter account @DeviantMelody, where she tweets with other escorts and posts pictures of her horses. She lives in Winnipeg, but only technically.
“I’m never there, ever,” she says. “All winter, I was there 25 days of the whole winter. I have two horses there that I never get to ride. It sucks. That’s the downside.”
At a restaurant for lunch, Melody, who stands 6’2″, is wearing a black-and-grey jacket and drinking white wine and arranging her waist-length brown hair. Two cellphones lay in front of her on the table: a white iPhone 5 and a cracked HTC handset whose number she gives out to clients. As a touring escort, Melody independently books her own clients and ads on websites like backpage.com, arranges a hotel or a condo and leaves town after a couple of days.
“Women that independently tour, they’ve got their shit together, because it takes a lot to book the hotel in advance and do your ads and respond to your emails and manage the review boards,” she says. “I even struggle with it. It’s a lot of work.”
Her past careers include training problem horses and commercial fishing. In 2011, she was working a retail job full time while trying to apply for nursing programs. That’s when she started paging through the Craigslist Casual Encounters section.
“When I turned 27 … I was going to leave for school, so I didn’t want to get attached to anyone,” she says. “So I turned to Craigslist, because I had a fantasy I wanted to play out. It was fantastic.
“[After a summer] I was like, I kind of enjoy this whole sex-with-strangers thing. … I know girls that are doing the same thing that I’m doing, but they make money. Why don’t I just turn this into my job?”
She started working part time and was initially surprised by the popularity she says accompanies any new escort.
“I had a full-time job, I had a retail job, I was perfectly fine, I was set up. I just get really bored sometimes in life, and I live for excitement, and this is exciting for me,” she says. “You’d be amazed at how many emails you get when you post a new [ad].”
The girlfriend experience, or GFE, can simulate a relationship with kissing and cuddling, but varies from client to client.
“There’s no set routine … it’s different with every person that you meet,” Melody says. “Typically, for the non-girlfriend experience—they call it fluid exchange—there’s no kissing or anything like that. The girlfriend experience, there is. It’s a little bit more passionate in that way.”
When Melody tours the north, she ends up booking a lot of clients from the oilsands.
“It’s hard for them to have a home life if they’re just a single guy living 30 to 40 days in camp, and they get lonely,” she says. “They don’t say it in those specific words, but yeah, you hear it.
“I like that they really appreciate that you’re there. They’re really glad that you’re there!”
But Melody doesn’t book in camps, usually trying to get rooms in hotels or booking short-term condo spaces instead.
“I’m getting used to hotels. I used to work out of condos I met through other girls,” she says. “It was great because I could stock the cupboards with my favourite teas and it was like a second home.”
But the biggest challenge, hotel or condo, is one that you might not expect.
“People don’t realize how much work is involved that’s not work you’d think you’d do … it’s laundry, ’cause laundry is a way of life,” she says. “It’s not the clothes, it’s towels and sheets, because every person you see, they have a shower, and so there’s a towel. I had an in-call in Vancouver I worked out of, three girls were there, the washer and dryer went 24/7. It’s a monumental amount of laundry, it was unreal.”
Melody says the community among escorts, which often involves whispers along review boards—”There’s a Yelp for [escorts]”—is particularly good in Alberta.
“Here, there’s meet-and-greets, and we had a barbecue in September. Everyone gets along … and there’s no drama, no crap, and everybody’s really friendly,” she says.
When it comes to staying safe, she relies on references from other girls. “I just screen, and when you’re working in places where there’s bylaw and stuff, I take references. You don’t see someone without a reference from another girl that you know,” she says.
And she relies on her gut instinct, which she says is always right.
“You’ve got to really fuck up to get caught. Just don’t be stupid, man. It’s not hard,” she says. “This is a terrible analogy, but if you watch Cops, every time you see them bust someone with like six kilos of cocaine in their trunk, it’s ’cause they ran a stop sign and got pulled over for a traffic violation. Just don’t be stupid!”
Melody has always been independent and she’s never seen human trafficking firsthand. While she doesn’t use drugs, there are some in the community that do.
“There’s all these stereotypes, right, and it holds true for some people but certainly not all, and unfortunately we all get painted with the same brush in that way,” she says. “It’s frustrating for me … people think that we come to the industry for the wrong reasons.”
While she speaks to advocates involved in the Supreme Court case on Canada’s prostitution laws, she says she’s been reading a bit, but is not as well-versed in it as they are.
There’s been a lot of discussion of what kind of new laws may be introduced, with “the Nordic model”—the philosophy in Sweden of targeting the buyers of sex rather than the sellers of sex—posed as an option.
“I don’t think it’ll affect me, if it does come into play, because all they have to do is go to a review and find out that I’ve been around for a while and I’m not a sting,” she says. “That, I don’t think, will affect the girls that are well established really, but I think it’ll really cut the flow of new people coming into the industry.”
In the debate over the new laws, critics like Minister of Justice Peter MacKay told the National Post that prostitutes are “predominantly victims.” Melody disagrees.
“It doesn’t objectify. It puts us in a position of power. Think about it: we’re not calling them, they’re calling us,” she says. “Girls have one-night-stands all the time, at least girls that work get paid for it. And who do you have more respect for? Honestly? Because she’s not getting money, do you have more respect for her? It doesn’t make sense.”
That being said, Melody says she’s considering transitioning out of the industry.
“It’s getting watered down, is what it is. There’s barely enough work for me,” she says. “It’s totally hit-and-miss, which is really frustrating, because you can go to one town and do really well and then return there and not see a single person the next time. And then you go there again and you do really well.”
Though it has a reputation for sex work, one town she’s crossed off her list is Fort McMurray.
“It’s too expensive and it’s too hit and miss. It’s a big gamble, and there are a lot of girls that don’t go there any more. You could do very well, but if you don’t, you’re losing a lot of money,” she says.
“You’re not getting rich. I’m not retiring on it, I’m doing it because I enjoy it right now. But it’s changing a lot; there’s a lot of new girls coming up and touring out here, and so work’s thinned right out.”
She’s been spending a lot more time in Cold Lake.
“I have a really close friend there, so I spend a lot of time with her,” she says. “Although I find that I don’t work [there] as much as I could, because I’m too busy having fun with my friend.”
As she gets ready to leave the restaurant, Melody gets a text from a client in Lloydminster, where she was the day before.
“This is one of the biggest frustrations for me: it seems like whenever you leave a town, your phone starts ringing for that town,” she says. “I’ve gambled on it a few times and stayed the extra day, and of course your phone doesn’t ring. It’s frustrating, so now I’ve realized, don’t gamble on it, just leave and if they want to call you when you come back they can.”