Are prostitutes who solicit via the internet different from streetwalkers?

I’ve been reading a very interesting study entitled “Prostitution 2.0: The Changing Face of Sex Work.” The demographics of internet prostitutes do differ from streetwalkers:

Among online workers, the average age is 28.3, and 61% are white, 11.1% are black, and 8.6% are Asian. Based on the FBI’s NIBRS (2005), the average age of female prostitute offenders is 33.5 and 59.8% are white, 37.5% are black, and 2.1% are Asian. Online sex workers appear to be younger, and to include a smaller share of Black workers.

What blew me away is 41% of surveyed online sex workers were college graduates. It seems to show — online prostitution has gotten quite sophisticated:

Internet technology also appears to facilitate the screening of customers by sex workers, through published “black lists” and “white lists”, and also through a fascinating system of worker-to-worker references, by which many sex workers will refuse to see a client unless he can provide evidence that he has seen another worker.

And internet prostitutes don’t engage in as many risky behaviors:

Fellatio appears to be the most common sexual practice, with 50.4% of all transactions involving unprotected fellatio, and another 31.2% involving fellatio with a condom. Vaginal sex is common as well, and anal sex less frequent, but only 6.1% of all transactions involved unprotected vaginal or anal sex. By comparison, in Levitt and Venkatesh’s (2007) survey of streetwalking prostitutes, oral and vaginal sex were much less common (45.8% and 17.2% of all transactions, respectively), while anal sex was more common (9.4%); however, they report 79.4% of all transactions were unprotected, with that share rising to nearly 97% in some subsamples. The results in Table 7 suggest a substantially lower degree of risk-taking among online sex workers… Overall, the results from the survey suggest that most sex workers who solicit online engage less frequently in high-risk sexual practices than has been found among street-level prostitutes.

Handling business online is less risky in other ways as well — you’re far less likely to get arrested:

Table 1 displays the distribution of arrests across locations in 2005, and shows that the bulk of arrests took place at what are clearly “street” locations, including “highway/road/alley”, and “parking lot/garage”. Only 10.72% of arrests took place in locations that would normally be associated with off-street workers – “hotel/motel/etc.” and “residence/home,” though this likely overstates the share of arrests of off-street workers, since it is not uncommon for solicitation to take place on a street, while the actual assignation takes place in a motel or residence. Thus, NIBRS data suggest that outdoor workers remain the majority of prostitutes who come into contact with law enforcement, despite the apparent growth in the off-street sector associated with online solicitation. Cunningham and Kendall (2009a) show that the share of prostitutes arrested at “street”-like locations has not changed materially between 1999 and 2005.

Here’s that data on arrest locations, which I include largely for entertainment value. I’ve put “notable” locations in bold:

Table 1: Location of Law Enforcement-Recorded Prostitution Incidents, 2005
Source: 2005 FBI National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).
Highway/Road/Alley 73.43%
Other/Unknown 7.33%
Hotel/Motel/Etc. 6.44%
Parking Lot/Garage 4.69%
Residence/Home 4.29%
Field/Woods 0.67%
Commercial/Office Building 0.56%
Bar/Nightclub 0.45%
Convenience Store 0.41%
Service/Gas Station 0.33%
Specialty Store 0.31%
Government/Public Building 0.20%
Church/Synagogue/Temple 0.17%
Jail/Prison 0.14%
Grocery/Supermarket 0.10%
Bank/Savings and Loan 0.09%
School/College 0.09%
Drug Store/Doctor’s Office/Hostpital 0.07%
Lake/Waterway 0.06%
Air/Bus/Train Terminal 0.05%
Department/Discount Store 0.04%
Construction Site 0.03%
Rental Storage Facility 0.03%
Liquor Store 0.02%

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