Cash-starved students in sex trade
By MICHAEL PLATT
The Calgary Sun
In a few years, their diplomas will earn them a living, but for now, dozens of Calgary students are using knowledge of a more carnal sort to pay their way through a post-secondary education. With university tuition closing in on $5,000 a year and rents soaring in Calgary, it's perhaps not surprising to find female students flocking to $300-an-hour jobs in Calgary's escort agencies.
"It's not unusual for students to be working as escorts -- they can easily make enough to live comfortably, and not worry about bills or tuition," said Jennifer, owner of Five Star Calgary Escorts. A perfectly legal industry in Calgary -- escort agencies are licensed by the city -- there are roughly a dozen companies offering escorts. Roughly 150 women are officially registered in the trade. Of those women, roughly 40% are students currently attending college or university in Calgary, according to the agencies.
"We definitely have girls who go to school and do this on the side," said Jennifer, who like many in the industry, refers to herself by one name. "We also have girls who want to go back to school, and they're saving money because, obviously, they can't be escorts for the rest of their lives."
Officially, an escort's job description doesn't include sex and employees are told what they do behind closed doors is their own decision. But the reality is, sex for cash is the cornerstone of the escort industry -- it's why the job pays so much. The city's blind approach to the sexual nature of the business landed them in trouble three years ago, when a firefighter licensed to run an escort agency was taken to court on pimping charges. During the trial, the steamy side of the business was laid bare and the court acquitted, saying the sexual nature of the business is obvious and the firefighter couldn't have known his agency's services -- including a $600 "couples special" -- weren't legal.
Jennifer laughs when it's pointed out mainstream employers like coffee shops and restaurants are readily hiring, too, albeit at a bit less than $300 an hour.
"Yeah, but with the cost of living these days, that's not enough for someone to survive -- this way you get a vehicle, and you can shop and money is not an issue," she said.
Calgary's police steer clear of investigating escort agencies, unless a specific complaint is filed. Insp. Shaun Gissing said there's no sign of students joining the street-level sex trade to earn a buck. "Inevitably, people working on the street are not students trying to get by," said Gissing.
But away from the street, those who run escort agencies say students are flocking to the business. "We get tons of them coming into apply -- they work here part-time while they're going to school," said Shelly, owner of Mansion Bunnies. "Tuition is high and Calgary is expensive -- I'd say it's a bit of both, plus the leniency of the job. You can take time off whenever you want." Shelly confirms about "three or four" of every 10 escorts are in school and she says most plan to work in corporate Calgary.
In the meantime, it's a matter of survival -- and unlike the typical student scraping by, escorts choose the riches of a controversial industry. "It's the economy and Calgary is an elitist place, where if you're not in the oil industry making money, it's a struggle," she said. "So they work here to make ends meet, until they can get a job in the white-collar world."
Escorts are at the extreme end of the scale, but exotic dance booking agent Dale Pidluzny says he's seeing plenty of students willing to flaunt their assets for tuition. "We have a lot of girls who are students, going to university," said Pidluzny, of Independent Artists Ltd. "There are girls who go to college and university and so they dance all summer and make enough money to cover tuition and rent for the year."
The pay is less than for escorts -- top strippers can rake in $2,000 a week in wages and tips -- but Pidluzny said dancing offers safety and the audience can't touch. The issue of tuition fuelling the escort and stripper trade is one Calgary's post-secondary institutions won't touch, either. Mount Royal College and the U of C declined comment, saying extra-curricular activity is the student's business. At $300 an hour, it's a lucrative business at that.