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Vancouver escorts lead leisurely, messed up lives

Susan Davis, independent escort and sex trade activist, says the good times outweigh the bad

Coco Carlson, a high-class escort manager, usually enjoys a relaxed working day. After 10 am she goes online to update her business ads and chat in forums. As the sun sets over the sea outside her West End apartment, Coco doesn’t have to bother with a stressful commute. She takes phone calls at home from various clients. 

For a businesswoman running an operation of about 30 people, it’s a pretty laid back lifestyle. While there have been a few hectic nights where Coco’s Blackberry rings off the hook, the ongoing recession has slowed business.

“I deal with a lot of weird f***ing people,” she told the Vancouver Observer. “Most people, they’re totally nice, I’ve built some great relationships and friendships with people in the industry.”

Carlson screens potential clients vigorously to keep out people with bad intentions. 

“I need a landline. If they [clients] are in a hotel I need a room number and phone with guest name registered to the room. If it’s a cell phone, they need to call me and I need to ring them back on that number to confirm. Most of the girls use a driver and they’re supposed to get the money right away,” she said.

As an added precaution Carlson makes a ‘safe-call’ as soon as the girl starts with her client, and a second one about 30 to 45 minutes into a session. If there’s no response, Carlson can call on a couple of big burly security men. She’s never had to. “It’s never happened,” she said.

To protect their health, Carlson’s girls use contraception and undergo blood tests every three months to check for any STDs. If an escort calls in sick with flu or otherwise can‘t make an appointment, Carlson will cover for her, and does so about once a month.

Many clients want companionship more than sex. “I have a lot of clients who are my friends.” About 95 per cent of her customers are either married or in relationships, she said and long for something the relationship doesn’t provide.

Carlson recounted covering for an employee who was ill. She took a client from Ottawa who just wanted an attractive woman to spend time with and eat dinner with. There was nothing sexual about it.

“The best escorts should be good listeners, well-versed on different topics, and not be closed-minded.”

“I think the biggest misconception is that guys pay for sex because they can’t get it on their own,” said Carlson. Turns out, they often can’t get emotional connection on their own.

While Carlson spoke freely of her day-to-day work, she never mentioned any run-ins with the police. But Susan Davis, a long-time advocate for Vancouver’s sex workers, had much to say on the topic.

“There’s always the fear of arrest for escorts. You’re constantly worried that the police are going to target you,” Davis said. Davis is also an escort and campaigns for  more safety for prostitutes.

“We are working on a system of professional accreditation for sex industry workers,” she said. “We hope to stabilize our industry and the remaining safe environments, stemming the tide of workers forced to manage in a dangerous street level trade,” said Davis.

Currently on the 42 year-old activist’s agenda is reversing the City’s ‘no sundry business’ bylaw, which according to Davis allowed authorities to shut down 23 strip clubs, depriving women of a safe place to work.

“By closing strip clubs, they’re forcing women to engage in prostitution, which they don’t want to do. They wanted to be dancers, not to have contact with customers.” It’s the other way round for Davis, who prefers one-on-one sessions as an escort over undressing in front of a crowd.

“We need choices. That’s what it comes down to,” she said.

Yet Davis’s eight-year activist career, which began after she split up with her husband, has not been an easy one.

“I had wanted to give something back to the community for years. He [my husband] didn’t want me to do it, because it’s triggering and I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and survivor guilt,” Davis said.

‘Triggering’ is a PTSD symptom of overwhelming emotions including rage and numbness that can be set off by a sound, smell, word, or in Davis’s case a neighbourhood.

“I survived the East End. One of my friends didn’t,” Davis said of her days as a street prostitute.

While she only worked the streets for three months, the violence and threats she witnessed and experienced led her to start using crack in a bid to forget the Downtown Eastside’s often traumatic environment.

Her ex-husband feared that if Davis went back to the East Side to discover what exactly happened to her old friends and fellow sex workers, it would affect her emotional recovery.

Davis, who’s long since left the streets to work in a massage parlour, then for a madam, and finally an independent escort, still believes, even after seeing friends injured and killed on Vancouver’s streets, that her job was a positive experience, all in all.

“The good times far outweigh the bad. Movie stars, sports stars, billionaires, private planes. What’s not to like? I also really enjoy the compassionate care aspect of my work. Men who are dying, or vulnerable for whatever reason finding comfort with me,” said Davis.

“I remember there was a client of mine and he was 22 years old. His nurse called me. When I arrived, I saw that he was infirmed, [had] involuntary seizures. He was drooling and unable to communicate. But his disease was not mentally debilitating. He was alive inside,” said Davis.

“All over the wall by his bed, he had pictures of girls with huge tits. He was going to die, and so I got in bed and rubbed my boobs all over him. He laughed, and was a man.”

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