Belle De Jour author explains why Aberdeen sex industry went social

Dr Brooke Magnanti: To be Inverness Whisky Festival ambassador.
Escorts: Brooke Magnanti says that social media is good for the industry and good for communities.

The sex industry in Aberdeen is thriving, but you wouldn't know it by taking a trip down to the former red light district in the harbour.

Few ladies still advertise their trade on the corners of the city's streets and the once notorious harbour pavements lie vacant.

Escort agencies have gone social. They now use Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube to offer information about their workers' availability, services and how to contact them.

Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry is the honey pot that cemented the city’s fate as an attractive place for sex workers to set up shop.

Dr Brooke Magnanti, author of The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, visited Aberdeen numerous times in 2003, an influential factor in her move to London where she pursued a high-profile career in the adult industry.

Brooke said: "If someone had ever offered to pay my travel to go up and see them in Aberdeen, I wouldn't have said no.

"I'm not surprised at all that sex workers use social media. The internet has given more sex workers a voice while still being able to maintain their anonymity, something that often wasn't possible before.

"Escorting has changed a lot since I was working. Now there are many more girls working independently, using blogs and social media. This means they're more able to reach out and support each other. Also they don't necessarily need to rely on escort agencies, who take a cut of their earnings.

"Most of the people I know who work in prostitution now are using sites specifically for that purpose."

Facebook and Twitter have previously removed escort profiles after being informed that the pages existed.

Brooke added: "If Twitter and Facebook banned sex workers, they would probably have to ban me, even though I'm not working as a prostitute anymore or advertising services.

"It's not that hard to do basic checks to ensure the person advertising a service is the same person providing it - the same kinds of checks you would do if you were a client booking an escort - you ask them some questions through email, or over their work number, talk to a real person.

"As for clients, they have their review boards, which are pretty comprehensive and that seems to flag up sex workers who are ripping people off and so on. To be honest though, sex workers defrauding clients is thankfully rare.

"There are also a lot of resources, mainly organised by these punters' forums, for people to anonymously report to the police if they have seen someone they suspect is abused."

Nastia moved to Aberdeen from Romania one month ago and offers escort services through Escort Scotland’s website, which tweets out changes on her profile.

She said: "I didn’t think when I came to Scotland that I would ever be here – I cannot say that this is a bad job. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I don’t have a pimp and I keep the money I make.

"Friends of mine did this and they told me about it so I thought, why not? Clients here are OK, except when they are drunk or if they forget to come and see me, which they sometimes do.

"Most guys here are normal oil and gas workers - young guys. Now I am working in my own flat, it is better than having to be on the street – I feel safer, I do call-outs but I prefer customers to come here."

The 30-year-old lives in the city centre with a friend, who helps to protect her when clients visit.

She added: "I try my best to be safe and I think social media is good for this. It helps me to advertise my services. I don’t think people will use it to contact us, it’s too open. They don’t want people to know that they have used us.

"It helps me keep in touch with other girls and see what they are doing – keeping up with competition. I can tell people about my availability and there is more chance of getting clients."

In this lucrative game, Nastia charges £130 per hour and sees one to three clients every day.

The tweets posted by escort agencies are used to channel traffic onto their main website. They update prospective clients on who is available in each area, any changes that are made on the escort profile and any reviews that are left for the girls.

Jan Mcleod, an officer from Women's Support Project, said: "We are aware of escorts active in Aberdeen. In general we are aware that various aspects of the sex industry, including prostitution in the guise of escorting, are increasingly being promoted on social networking sites.

"One concern is that this normalises prostitution and it is harder for people - especially younger people and vulnerable people, to distinguish between acceptable and exploitative activities."

The unfiltered tweets and accessible pages arouse concern for the protection of young people, who are also being fed information that could lead to ‘virtual kerb crawling’.

Last year, under new guidelines, it was revealed that kerb crawlers caught trying to pick up prostitutes could face losing their driving licences in addition to any other sentence deemed appropriate.

The use of networking sites may now prompt a new definition of such crimes.

A Grampian Police spokesperson said: "We are aware that women engaged in the off-street sex industry will use all forms of social media.

"We do monitor these websites and carry out welfare checks with the girls who are operating legally.

"While we do attempt to trace those operating illegally, our primary focus is on identifying potential victims and reporting those individuals who are profiting from the sexual exploitation of women."

If you are concerned for the welfare of someone who is working in the industry, contact Women's Support Project.