The Tinder of Sex Work
Germany legalized sex work in 2002 and now, 12 years later, a technology start-up is looking to reduce some of the difficulties associated with straÃŸenstrich, or street-based sex work. Austrian developer Pia Poppenreiter was out on the town in Berlin on a cool autumn night when she saw a sex worker on a street corner and had the sort of “a-ha!” moment any founder will talk your ear off about.
“It’s crazy that there’s an app for everything, but not for that,” she thought, referring to street-walking. “Why do they have to stand there in the winter all day?”
The result of her work is Peppr, an app that hybridizes the geo-location focus of Tinder and the now-defunct Craigslist erotic services ad. Men and women in the sex trade make profiles with their rates, services they offer and photos.
Conscious that Germany’s acceptance of sex work as a legitimate occupation has made the country a point of interest for those who coerce people into the trade, Peppr interviews everyone who wants to use the service before allowing them to sign up, to ensure to the best of its ability that a sex worker is not working against their will. As a rule of thumb, Peppr doesn’t work with brothels — only with independent sex workers and escort agencies that have shown fair practices.
The idea, according to Poppenreiter is to enable sex workers to attract customers without having to leave the comfort of the indoors. In order for the app to work, though, the patrons need to get onboard with the app. It’s unclear what plans Peppr developers have to get users who are not in the sex industry onboard.
In a remarkably level-headed post about the app for the Atlantic, Feargus O’Sullivan worries that the app may take away the ability for sex workers to sniff out whether a prospective client is a good bet. But this issue might be less daunting than it appears — the Erotic Review has had a good degree of success in terms of creating a culture where sex workers can ask prospective clients for referrals from other sex workers. Peppr could very well introduce this aspect of client “quality control” into its app, by allowing sex workers to flag the profiles of troublesome clients.
Sex workers who work the streets are frequently targets of efforts to “clean up” a city, which often does little for a city and even less for sex workers, who are pushed out of the safer, well-lit and busy areas into remote ones where no one might notice violent acts. An app that can enable sex workers to remain in safe areas to practice their trade independent of a brothel, and equip them with a way to flag troublesome clients could very well solve some issues associated with this aspect of the industry.