“It’s very frustrating,” DC detective Gilkey says. “Because of the technology they’re using, the cases are tougher. But we’re still very proactively working on them.”
Some people question why authorities should pursue what they see as “victimless” crimes. Several cases in recent years have highlighted the dangers. This year 24-year-old exotic dancer Emily Cagal was beaten to death inside her Rockville condo. Police charged two men who worked as Cagal’s bodyguards while she performed at private homes. They are accused of killing Cagal, carrying her body out in a wicker footlocker, and burying her in a shallow grave. The men reportedly stole large amounts of cash from her home.
In 2003 Teresa Howell, 42, was found dead in her Georgetown home. News accounts say the $300-an-hour escort, who used the professional name Summer Breeze, operated without an agency and placed ads in magazines and on the Internet. Police initially believed a date might have killed her but later surmised that she fractured her best badoo alternative skull in a fall inside her home while she was drunk. Howell had liver problems associated with alcohol abuse. Howell’s friends told the Washington Post that many women who do escort work turn to alcohol or drugs.
Women are not the only victims. Another case that made news was that of Bob Beckel, who in 2002 was blackmailed by an escort. Beckel, a Democratic Party strategist who ran Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign in 1984, had called an escort to his Bethesda home and paid for oral sex with a $600 check. Two days later Beckel called the woman again, this time giving her a $1,300 check. Weeks later the escort was involved in blackmailing Beckel for $50,000 to keep their relationship quiet. Beckel went to the police and resigned from a US Senate campaign he was managing in Idaho.
Escort services operate relatively freely because they are difficult to get information about. “We actually know the least about the escort services,” says Ellerman, who works closely with police. “For one thing, they’re so decentralized, and when you have decentralized networks, they’re very hard for law enforcement to get a handle on. I mean, you could take out 5, 10, 15 of them, and it wouldn’t hurt the market at all.”
Prosecuting an escort agency is substantial and challenging, and it won’t even affect the overall system
And because escort services operate out of the public eye, citizens tend to be tolerant of them, says DC councilman Jack Evans. “People don’t want prostitutes at night keeping them awake, condoms in their yard, and needles in the alley, that whole thing,” he says. “But . . . an escort agency–nobody cares.”
“Are escorts as guilty as other forms of prostitution?” says Detective Tom Stack of the Montgomery County police. “Yes. You hate to put things in priority, but if a juvenile is engaged in prostitution, that’s a priority. Then you deal with complaints. “
Stack says he once arrested a 59-year-old escort in a sting at a motel who “just thought it was great people were paying her to have sex. She was making $2,000 to $3,000 a week.”
Ironically, the growth in escort services has been fueled in part by successful police work. Crackdowns on street prostitution have helped drive women and johns alike to escort agencies.
We do pop escorts sometimes, but there are so many of them, I could lock one up every six hours
In terms of public prostitution, “we’re light-years ahead of where we used to be,” says Sergeant Gilkey. “It used to be that you’d go down to 14th Street and there would be anywhere from 50 to 60 girls out. Now sometimes there are no girls at all. I’m not saying it’s totally cleared up, but it’s not the parade of girls like it used to be.”