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Escort Agencies


 

If prostitution is a “grey area”, then escort agencies are the greyest! Are they legal? There’s no simple answer; it depends what they do and how they do it. If they comply with the law, then yes. If they can be proven to have broken the law then no. Despite the general view that most escort agencies are thinly-veiled prostitution rings, recent cases have demonstrated how difficult it can be to secure convictions against them. Some agencies may well have the outward trappings of legality (e.g. registered as a limited company, registered for  VAT); but that does not necessarily mean that their business activities are lawful.It is, of course, not an offence for a prostitute to work for an escort agency, nor is an offence for a client to use the services of an agency. Very importantly, as we will see, there have recently been some spectacular acquittals when cases against escort agencies have been taken to court.

Traditionally, as with many of the laws surrounding prostitution, the “Nelson’s Eye” principle applies; little attention has been paid to escort agencies unless a complaint has been made to the police. There have indeed been signs of agencies acquiring something approaching “respectability”. In 2000, a ruling by the Independent Television Commissioners (ITC) appeared to open the door for escort agencies to advertise on television (though it appears that none ever have). There have been numerous glossy magazine articles, feature articles in the broadsheets, and a TV documentary on Channel 4 about a north-east based agency.

In the main, regulating and “policing” agencies has been left to Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise (HMRC) and there have been some interesting cases involving  VAT.  However, since the implementation of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, there are, in theory, powers to put agencies under closer scrutiny concerning criminal offences. In particular Section 52 of the Act “Causing or inciting prostitution for gain” prohibits any action which might encourage a person to become a prostitute, anywhere in the world, in the expectation of gain. This has potentially serious implications for the recruitment of agency workers. An advertisement stating 'no experience required' when advertising for new staff would be unlawful. Similarly, Section 53 of the SOA, 'Controlling prostitution for gain' could be interpreted as to including placing advertisements, arranging appointments, telling someone where to go and who to see, as well as setting prices, working hours etc. Depending on the severity of the offence, the penalty for both transgressions is up to six months imprisonment or a fine in a Magistrate's court, (suspended sentences might also be used) or up to seven years imprisonment if the case is referred to the Crown courts. Employing illegal immigrants or workers under the age of 18 are additional areas which may interest the authorities. In the case of the latter, it is not necessary to prove the element of “gain” - and the sentencing maximum on conviction increases to fourteen years imprisonment. Those agencies which offer “incall” facilities would appear to infringe the laws relating to brothels.

But enough of the theory – now let’s look at the practice.

  • 1. The Polok Case (2002)
    A High Court judge ruled that the then Customs and Excise (now HMRC) was perfectly entitled to collect revenue due from prostitution. Mr Justice Jacob decided that members of the world's oldest profession should not be allowed to exploit a loophole because of their illegal activities and avoid paying value- added tax. The ruling, while difficult to enforce, raises the prospect of pimps and procurers having to keep accounts for inspection by Customs and Excise, just like any other business.
    The case followed a  VAT tribunal in 2001, which ruled that Robert and Julie Polok's escort agency, Supreme Escorts, was unlawful and therefore could not be taxed. The tribunal said the business "consists wholly, or at least very substantially, of the procurement of women for the purposes of their becoming common prostitutes". An interesting aspect of the case was that a witness was allowed to give evidence using only the name “Caroline”/Miss X”. When the tribunal found that the agency, operating from an address in Ashford, Kent, was "straightforwardly criminal", it meant that Customs and Excise could not claim  VAT.  Mr and Mrs Polok, who face a claim for unpaid  VAT of more than 130,000 GBP, had always claimed their business was lawful but said their turnover was below the threshold for  VAT.  But the judge overturned the ruling yesterday. He said: "I conclude that this case is not within the very narrow rules which allow moral scruple by a paradox to reward criminality by exempting it from taxation." Under EU harmonisation of taxation, VAT is payable on a wide range of services without any difference being drawn over whether it is legal or illegal. Only drug dealing and counterfeit money escape being taxed.
  • 2.. Silk and Lace Agency
    Steven Drew, 51, of Hatfield, Hertfordshire, had been accused of controlling prostitution. The firm Silk and Lace, made "huge sums", London's Southwark Crown Court was told. Drew and his co-accused argued it had nothing to do with them if their staff entered into private sexual arrangements with clients. In the dock with Drew, of Millwards, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, was his son Paul, 24, and daughter, Kerrylyn, 27, who also live in the town; Lisa Stuart, 38, of Jubilee Close, Henlow, Bedfordshire, and Graham Sansom, 43, from Western Road, Tring, Hertfordshire.
    They were cleared of conspiring to control prostitution for gain and plotting to launder money between 1 April and 25 November, 2005. (The Prosecution had claimed that the defendants banked more than 2 million pounds in 2005 alone). Steven Drew admitting possession of cocaine and a CS gas canister.
    The prosecution alleged Silk and Lace was one of the top players "in the call-girl field". The court was told that an undercover police officer posed as a cash-paying customer to gather evidence on Silk and Lace. He rang the agency in November 2005 not long afterwards, a woman called Luna arrived at the room colleagues had booked for him at the Premier Lodge Hotel in Barking, Essex. The court was told the woman said the £120 fee would buy the officer "the pleasure of my company, the full service". The jury heard that as she led him towards the bed another undercover officer made a pre-arranged knock on the door and he left.
    Those on trial did not give evidence, but successfully insisted through counsel their business offered only a £120-an-hour escort  and massage service.
    After considering weeks of evidence the jury of nine women and three men decided they were telling the truth.
    Acknowledgement: Story from BBC News:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7064710.stm
  • 3. Christony Companions
    In 2001 the owners of the north-east England agency “Christony Companions” (later the subject of a Channel 4 TV documentary) were charged with living off immoral earnings. Interestingly the distinction between “prostitute” and “escort” was raised, but not fully tested, as a number of prosecution witnesses failed to attend and the case was dropped.

The future?
So, looking into our crystal ball, what does the future hold? Our guess is that in view of its recent spectacular failures, the Crown Prosecution Service will think very carefully before prosecuting agencies, unless there are flagrant abuses such as using under-age girls and illegal immigrants. The provision of premises by some agencies for incalls brings them close to "brothels". The “policing” of this sector, such as it is, will probably continue to involve HMRC.