MAR 9. SEP 2008 10:17 (EST)
Sex Trade Monitors a Key Figure’s Woes
J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times
In a little-known success story, TheEroticReview.com has come to
dominate the country’s prostitution scene, which is increasingly
migrating from the street corner to the Internet.
But now the site’s founder, David Elms, is in jail awaiting trial in
Los Angeles in a case unrelated to the site, leaving the fate of his
influential underground world uncertain. In dozens of conversations
and in postings on the Internet in recent weeks, prostitutes have
expressed concern that if The Erotic Review goes offline it could
hurt business. But in the same breath, many are rejoicing about the
potential downfall of Mr. Elms.
One escort agency that was banned from the site has accused Mr. Elms
of antitrust violations, suggesting that he abuses his power over the
sex trade. Other critics say he accepts, and sometimes demands, sex
or money to promote certain women and agencies.
He has denied the accusations.
The Web site, which is still in operation, allows visitors to rank
their experiences with prostitutes on a scale of 1 to 10, as well as
to leave comments. It gets 500,000 to 1 million unique visitors each
month, according to companies that track Web traffic.
“He is the most influential man in the prostitution business in
America,” said Jason Itzler, the former head of NY Confidential, an
escort ring. Mr. Itzler was released from prison last year after
serving 30 months for the attempted promotion of prostitution.
Mr. Elms, 37, was jailed this month on accusations that he failed
five drug tests since October, a violation of his probation from a
2006 drug and gun conviction. If he is found to have violated his
probation, he could be sentenced to four years in prison.
Mr. Elms usually does not say much publicly about his Web site,
asserting that reporters twist his words. But in an interview with
MSNBC.com in 2006, Mr. Elms said that he started The Erotic Review in
1999 because he wanted to empower the customers of prostitutes.
“I was getting ripped off,” he said. “There was no way to hold people
accountable for their actions.”
The house in Hawthorne, Calif., where Mr. Elms lives is modest, with
a well-kept yard. The only unusual signs are a surveillance camera
over the porch and the late-model Mercedes sports car parked out
front with the vanity license plate “Will She.”
The Erotic Review works like many consumer review sites. Visitors to
the site can look for prostitutes by city or area code and find
contact information, personal Web sites, physical attributes like
height and body type, and numeric rankings.
More broadly, the Internet is changing prostitution. In recent years,
thousands of prostitutes have posted their own Web sites, including
their pictures and contact information. They are called Net walkers.
The Internet, they say, has let them more easily reach clientele,
particularly high-paying customers, and vet them.
Robert Weisberg, a professor of criminal law at Stanford, said that
prostitution promoted online — even if overtly advertised — might not
pique law enforcement interest because the crime usually received
Jodi Michelle Link, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who
specializes in sex and vice crimes, said prosecuting Mr. Elms for his
connection to The Erotic Review could be difficult for free speech
reasons. She also said that the prostitutes who said they had been
asked by Mr. Elms for sexual favors would have trouble making a
criminal case against him because they could simply choose not to
participate on his site.
As The Erotic Review has become more popular, Mr. Elms has attracted
criticism. In April, a lawyer for an escort service based in Phoenix,
MystiqueUSA, wrote a letter to Mr. Elms threatening him with an
antitrust lawsuit for banning the agency and its escorts from the site.
“There is no question that your Erotic Review site clearly meets the
legal standard of a unique facility whose use is essential to
effectively compete in the upscale escort services market,” the
lawyer wrote. The letter accused the Web site of favoring escort
agencies that did not want competition.
Officials at MystiqueUSA would not comment. But on the home page of
its Web site, it expresses regret over the assertions in the letter
and apologizes to Mr. Elms.
Ms. Link, the deputy district attorney, said the criminal charges
against Mr. Elms stemmed from a night in 2006 when the police were
called to a hotel where they found him with 3.8 grams of cocaine and
a loaded semi-automatic weapon. A prostitute was there and said Mr.
Elms had forced her to perform oral sex at gunpoint, but there was
not enough evidence to press charges on that accusation, Ms. Link said.
So what do you guys think? I thought this article could generate some interesting discussion. If the sitew goes down how will it affect other sites such as MERC?