Outing bad clients by escorts: Freedom of speech or cybercrime?

During the summer of 2012, news was made when BadBoyClientList.com was named as a defendant in a lawsuit involving blackmail, harassment, extortion and defamation of character for falsely listing personal information about a New Hampshire man who claimed he had never communicated with or hired an escort in his life, let alone mistreated one. The site was ordered to remove all information about the victim.

BadBoyClientList.com was a reporting site for escorts controlled by Gia “Goodgirl” Goode. The site was hosted by AnonymousSpeech.com, which is known for hosting sites overseas for the purpose of avoiding legal trouble. The site was purported to be used by escorts who had experienced negative encounters with clients. Escorts were encouraged to report timewasters, abusive clients and scammers on the site, which was designed to act as a database for other escorts to use to avoid trouble clients. The claimed purpose of the website it quite honorable. Many escorts and workers involved in the sex industry often endure abusive clients and dangerous situations because they feel they have no recourse. If nothing else, sites like BadBoyClientList.com work to provide escorts with networks they can use to protect themselves from repeat offenders.

However, the site’s intentions may not have been entirely pure. The lawsuit claiming blackmail, extortion and defamation of character may be founded on fact. Many victims of the site claim they have never been involved with or contacted an escort in their lives, ever. The list of victims reads much like a “Who’s Who” list of the northeast area. Physicians, city council members, a priest, a Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employee and two Portsmouth financial professionals were among the “bad boys” in the database.

The client who sued the website had a complete listing on the site, including his wife’s work phone number, wedding picture and current residential address. Although the site’s disclaimer indicated that all “bad boys” had given their information with consent, it is rather unlikely that the plaintiff in the case provided the site his wedding picture.

What makes the site even more questionable is the fact that many of the victims have received phone calls from representatives of the website informing them that their information can be removed from the site for a price. Some were told it would cost them $4,000; others said the price quoted was $3,000. The representative in all cases was purported to be an attorney.

Escorts who feel they’ve been mistreated by a client are encouraged to post such negative experiences to another national website called NationalBlacklist.com. The site’s mission is to “help all escorts become aware of all of the risks they may face and to help them be as prepared as possible.” The site indicates that its hope is for the National Blacklist to become a highly-valued resource tool that independent escorts and escort agencies can use in their screening processes. “Our goal is to make National Blacklist the largest and most comprehensive database of bad customers so escorts and escort agencies can make more informed decisions when dealing with new and unknown callers,” according to the website. Its database currently has over 54,000 incidents listed and is growing every day. The site maintains a policy where postings are never subject to removal or editing, due to free speech and maintaining an accurate record of incident reports. The site declares it is protected by intermediary immunity by the Communications Decency Act.

While the site is protected from legal actions due to the Communications Decency Act, libeled or slandered clients may sue individuals making postings about them. But, such lawsuits are difficult to win, when the burden of proof lies on the client’s shoulders to prove that no mistreatment occurred.

So, this leaves quite a bit of gray area: when an escort reports a client for mistreatment, is it legitimate reporting that will help other escorts, or is it harassment or defamation?

Cybercrime is a huge deal these days with all services and goods available on the Internet. Scamming is common, and thefts is prevalent. Social network sites like Facebook and Twitter provide platforms for users to post anything they want, regardless of its impact on others, due to free speech. But, some actions are still considered cybercrime when they cross lines into libel and slander.

The real questions lie in what is legal and what is not. Cybercrimes are defined as offenses committed against individuals or groups with the motive to harm the reputation of the victim(s). Physical or mental harm to the victim involving the use of modern telecommunication networks is included in the cybercrime definition, as well.

When an escort posts negative comments about a client, her motive is what keeps it from being a cybercrime. Obviously, any time that negative reports are made about an individual, it may harm his or her reputation. But, if an escort posts a report with the intention of informing and helping others (instead of harming one’s reputation), the action is legal.

Clients who don’t show up, fail to pay or physically or mentally abuse an escort should be reported. No escort deserves to be mistreated, have her time wasted or be cheated out of an agreed upon rate. This abusive clients deserves to be reported in order to save some other escort from a similar experience.

However, if a client simply made an escort mad by throwing his money down at the door and was a little rude, does it justify reporting him? If an escort wants to make a negative report to “get back at him,” this could cross the gray area into a cybercrime.

The Internet has opened up an entirely different can of worms when it became possible for people to post freely about one another. Just as it can be a crime for escorts to post falsely about clients, it’s also fraudulent for clients to post falsely negative comments about escorts, just to get back at them.

Maybe an escort wouldn’t perform a requested service or she wouldn’t lower her rate after haggling with a client — does that give them a reason to post a negative review? It doesn’t. But if an escort cheated a client out of part of his time, overcharged him or showed up too high to perform agreed upon services, that’s a justifiable reason to report her in a negative review.

Although there are few ways to gain back your reputation after someone has trashed it over the Internet, legal repercussions could exist for the person guilty of defamation. Currently, 17 states have criminal web libel laws that make it illegal to post false information about someone on the Internet. Common accusations included in the law are accusations of criminal acts, marital infidelity, dishonesty or illness. The 17 states with web libel laws are: Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have web libel laws. Most states make criminal libel a felony that carries penalties of up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $100,000 for the first offense. When the web libel law is enacted, posters using anonymity as their veil have no legal protection.

Sites like the National Blacklist are essential to the safety and well being of escorts, as long as it’s used properly. Here are some guidelines for reporting abusive or undesirable clients:

  • Determine if the offense was a minor, moderate or major one.
    • Minor offense: Several actions could make a client’s actions a minor offense. Time wasting, showing up late consistently, failure to confirm, collecting pictures, last-minute cancellations, failure to show up, double booking, going over time, constant calling or texting, harassment, poor hygiene, haggling for better price in exchange for reviews, requests and insisting on BB services.
    • Moderate offenses: Harassment after declining a booking, repeated no shows, repeated last-minute cancellations, practical jokers with phony addresses, failure to pay full rte, fake references, lies for screening, writes fake reviews, verbal abuse, ignoring instructions during or before session, crossing boundaries, overly aggressive.
    • Major offenses: Several actions can fall into this category such as rape, robbery, assault, weapon use or threats, drugs, refusal to pay, counterfeit money payment, empty donation envelope, empty gift card payment, physical abuse, verbal threats, stalking, violation of boundaries or limitations, injures you or causes harm, condom removal, blackmails with bad review threats, noticeable STD infection, shares information, steals or destroys property, threatens to report you.
  • Ensure that your report fits the offense that your client committed. If your client was late, because his car broke down or he had a flat tire, it’s probably not warranted to report him. However, if he’s committed a true offense, use these guidelines:
    • Minor offenses should be reported by using the client’s first name only. If he was only rude, late, stood you up, cancels or is just flaky, a report involving personal information that would identify him clearly to others outside of the escort circle is unfair and not warranted. Post a report that includes his name and basic physical description. If you still feel the need to report your client’s last name, list at the end of the report, where it is less likely to draw attention from a search engine.
    • Clients guilty of major offenses should be fully reported. Include as much information about the client as you can. Escorts deserve to be fully informed in order to be able to avoid and stay clear of predators. Employment information, physical description, automobile description, mobile phone number, email address and other information that could be used by another escort to cross reference a bad client could help avert a dangerous or negative situation. Because your goal is not to defame the client, feel free to post as much information as possible in the interest of public safety.
  • Keep in mind that you are the only one who can truly rate whether an incident should be determined as a minor, moderate or major offense. Trust your gut feelings. If the accident is likely to repeat with other escorts, you should never feel bad about helping others by spreading the word.