Katherine* and her partner did what so many of us daydream about – won the lottery – a million bucks. For the first few years, they renovated their house and committed to spending more time together as a family. She will tell you nothing really changed. A few years into their winnings and over a cup of coffee, Katherine’s friend mentioned she and her partner had been researching brothels. (A legal business in the country in which she lives.) Within weeks, the four of them were in the brothel business together.
Here is a bit of her story.
What is it like to win the lottery?
That was amazing. [Laughing] I just thought, “This can’t be right.” Then I realized it was. We were absolutely shell shocked. I literally just burst into tears. It is an amazing thing that happens to so few people. It has been such a gift.
Did you have any reservations or concerns about running a brothel?
The biggest concerns were any potential impact on our family from the stigma of this industry, any impact that could influence my job or my son. And secondly there is still kind of a link to the criminal aspect that was previously involved in this industry [before it was legal]. The police are now involved and there is a great prostitutes’ collective. We have good standards [here] that create safe work places for these girls. Those were my two biggest reservations.
What do your friends and family think? I would imagine there have been some pretty significant reactions.
We have not gone around broadcasting it. There are certain family members that know and there are still family members that have no idea. Overall friendswise, the majority of them say that is very interesting. Maybe I should be offended that they are not surprised. [Laughing]
We opened with a certain intention. It is a business. We wanted to provide a safe and happy work environment for these girls, a number of which may not have a lot of choices. It can be more financial security than they can get working at a minimum wage job, and we can ensure the people who come have respect for the girls as well.
From the outside it seems that creating a safe and happy environment would be challenging. How do you do that?
I am not heavily involved on a daily basis. My job is my focus. My partner is the one who is definitely more involved and on the ground every night when it is opened. The key factor is letting the girls know we are running this club as married partners. The girls meet the guys, my husband and my friend’s husband. They know the guys are not there for, literally, the free ride that happens in a lot of other environments. In other places they are charged for being late or a shift fee, so by the time they start the evening they are in the negative already. We are trying to promote a more positive envirionment.
The girls know if they get into a problem with a client we are on their side – within reason. We ask the girls what they are and are not prepared to do. If the clients want to do something the girl does not want to do there is no uncertain message around the girl not being prepared to do that or not wanting to be involved in that. I think there is a culture of honesty with the girls that we create.
We have a bar. People can come and hang out and have a few drinks and enjoy the atmosphere, as well as be pampered and taken care of in a way they want, and the girls feel comfortable.
I think very few women would feel comfortable having their boyfriend or husband work in a brothel.
It does sound weird – sometimes even when I say it. With people who know us there is probably not a lot of surprise. We have certainly faced our challenges [as a couple]. We have been together a long time and we have certainly had a lot of ups and downs. We have had our bad patches. We have talked a lot about that. We are in a really good space now. The conversation that we have around that is around that we don’t lose the emotional connection with each other, once you lose that emotional connection and you are not on the same page it is really difficult to recover and support each other, and at the end of the day everything else is just physical.
There are a lot of pretty girls in our business. My partner is more of a father figure or a protective type figure. I think with new girls in the industry they need to feel there is safety and security with him and my friend’s husband. They know they are not going to have to show up to work and have to worry about the guys who work there as well as the guys who walk through the door.
He comes home and tells me all the stories and funny things that happen every night. I can’t even explain it. It is very easy. We went into this with eyes wide open with the hope that we can hand this over to managers in the future, but right now he has to be there, on the ground and developing the type of culture we want.
I would imagine there is a crazy array of services.
The services are up to the girls. There are as many of different ways as people can dream up. Clients can have the initial conversation with our girls and then agree upon a price, and if the girls are happy then they will perform tasks as long as they are comfortable with it. It is pretty interesting. People are pretty diverse.
What does your clientele look like? Do you have a consistent demographic?
It is a range from younger guys to older business men to your general trade workers looking for an easy drink and a guaranteed thing at the end of the evening. Those are probably our three main groups presently.
We are thinking about exploring, particularly with the type of bubbly girls we have, the elderly field and people with disabilities. There are needs in those areas.
How old do the girls have to be?
They have to be 18 years old.
You received some positive feedback in the industry. Can you talk about that?
There is a prostitutes’ collective and one of the managers that was involved as a worker, and now as a voice for the community, has told us that we are walking the talk and interacting with girls as we say would.
Other people who go to different clubs regularly have commented that there is a very different feel in terms of environment with us. At a lot of the other clubs the girls are not as interactive. There is a very fine balance with the girls interacting and making sure they are earning money, but also making sure anyone who walks through the door feels welcomed right from the initial stage.
Do you do any drug testing? Are there alcohol problems with the girls?
We are continuing to look for more girls. To date we have only had one issue with one woman that had a severe alcohol problem, and unfortunately, that did not work for us.
It is looking at every person to make sure they are not a danger to themselves, to anyone else working there or our clients.
If guys want to buy the girls a few drinks that is fine. There is zero tolerance for drugs on the premise. That is not something we want to get involved with or have anything to do with. That jeopardizes the whole business.
What do you say to the people who say you are making money off of exploiting women?
It is a difficult statement. It comes down to where you stand. I have always been a believer of different aspects of adult life as long as you are not hurting anyone or going against their beliefs.
The girls who work for us – the first thing we try to do is dissuade them from doing so. We have open conversations with them. The girls that do not have any experience get taken under the wings of the girls that have.
I am proud that we are providing a safer and probably more interactive environment, than is probably available in other places. I think to add a bit of good is something we can be proud of. The other side of that is girls that actively want to be involved in this. We have some pretty smart cookies on our books. We have some girls furthering their education. At the end of the day, this is something she wants to do, wants to get paid for, and it is something that could benefit other parts of her life.
If they choose to work for us it is up to them as an adult, and what they do with the client is their choice and we will support that. What we can do is provide the best kind of environment in the industry. I would like to see a whole lot of other clubs like us instead of those that are taking advantage of these women and putting them into negative territory before they even start for the day.
If you had a daughter and she wanted to be a prostitute, what would you say?
I don’t have a daughter, so it is purely hypothetical. There is a range of prostitutes. I suppose it is like any job in any industry. There are some people who just do the base level of the job, some who are hugely successful and a wide range in the middle. Those who we have spoken to and have been in the industry a long time and are successful are those who can totally disassociate. They are living a role.
I think the biggest concern I would have around that is the stigma, and I think that is what affects the girls more than anything. There is still a perception around who prostitutes are as a person. If you are a working girl, stigma is the biggest aspect you need to take into consideration. You need to make sure you have a support network and people who know who as a person.
It is not an easy job. I think it is an interesting, and I think to some degree a brave choice, for any person to make. It is very intimate and very exposing, and I think to be able to do that on a regular basis does take a special kind of person.
I do not think there is anything wrong with prostitution or sex. It is part of human nature and who we are and how we behave. It is a service. The longest one we have had in humanity.
Do you screen your customers at all? Are you ever like, “No sorry you can’t come in.”
It comes down to the girls and whether they want to take a booking. As long as people are not causing any trouble it is an environment where people can come and hang out. A booking has to be approved by a girl. That screen process usually happens at the bar. If you are overly intoxicated or causing any trouble they just get evicted like they would in any other bar.
We have cameras around the club where girls can see someone before they enter, so if it is someone they know or they don’t want to be seen by – they know before they enter.
How do the girls get paid?
There are house standards. We have different pricing for a variety of different services and we have an agreed upon split between the girls and the house, and the girls get the majority of the split – quite substantially. Anything else agreed upon in the room, just as an easy example, like a golden shower, the money has to exchange hands before she will perform the service, and in that case, the girl would get the full percentage. It has the potential to earn the girls really good money.
What is the average salary?
It varies from club to club and there is a huge range. I know girls that are working maybe two or three days a week and they are going home with $1500 to $3000 per week and it could be more if a guy has a particular interest in a particular girl. Then you can have girls that are waiting around and make a couple of hundred bucks a week. It is a range and it depends on how busy the club is and how attractive the girl is to a particular client.
Has a girl ever become pregnant?
No. Clients have to wear condoms with our girls. We are new in the industry. That could come up in the future.
What I have always struggled with is if I knew these girls had every option in front of them and then decided, “I just want to be a prostitute.” I would feel so much better about it. What percent of the girls you work with are saying, “This is just what I want to do.”
A very small percentage. There are a few girls that actively talk about how much they love sex, and they just say, “If I love it so much – why would I not getting paid for it.” They are bright interactive girls. They say, “I’m loving it and I don’t care.”
Then you get a few girls, in particular girls, who are new to industry and from out of town, and they can’t even get a job on minimum wage and this is potentially an option for them. It is not something a lot of girls come to purely because they adore sex. A lot of it is, “I don’t have a lot of other things, I can make good money at this – I will give it a go.”
I have heard stories of people who won the lottery and suddenly they lose friends and everything changes. Did that happen to you?
A lot did not really change for us. There were some instances of that, but that was more from the next tier of people in our lives that we weren’t spending all day everyday with anyway. With one million dollars it is a huge amount of money, so it is life changing, but it will only go so far. Our focus has been to figure out how we can sustain this and create better opportunities in the future. Although this is an unusual choice, this was one of the better solutions we were presented where we could operate and make a difference.
With the friends and family that love us and know us and have always been there – it is still the same. It is one of those things where the wine that I drink and the restaurants we go to are a little fancier, but nothing else has gotten that much fancier about me. We are exactly who we were.
Some say “You have changed. Things have changed.” But those closest to us say, “That is bullshit. Their perception of you has changed. They have just changed and their perception of what you should do for them has changed.”
The biggest impact on our lives is providing us with better life experiences; holidays we would have never dreamed of having and taking that weight off our shoulders. We are able to enjoy life a bit better, but I still work hard, if not harder, than I ever have before. It has changed a few things, but it has not changed our perspective of being good people, that others want to be involved with and around, but it did give us a few more opportunities than we would have otherwise had.
*Not her real name.