The other time I personally have no issue with an escort is if the model is physically disabled and needs special assistance. One of the models in my portfolio is entirely paralyzed on her left side and needs help with things as simple as changing her shoes. She's a great lady though, and obviously needs someone there who's qualified to assist her. Ditto for another model who's posted before who's a quadriplegic. And the other day, someone pointed out something I hadn't considered: if you're working with a model who needs a translator that person should be welcome. In the case of both a translator and an assistant for someone handicapped they are there as a part of the shoot, unlike an escort.
So, assuming you're an adult, what then?
First, check the photographer out! References, references, references! Does he or she have other models you can ask about work experiences? Do so! While you're at it, ask how they were about flaking, returning images promptly, not bouncing checks, and honoring agreements. Relying on escorts instead of reference checks can land you with all sorts of problems other than safety. This is also a great way for you to network with others in your local community! If you hear one bad thing about someone and 15 good things, use your judgment to make a decision. This month's feature on due diligence is a great place to start!
Second, verify the photographer's info. Is there a business license in that name? Does he or she own a web domain with verifiable info? Is there a verifiable phone number that's not a throwaway cell? How about a business mailing address? Don't just swap PMs here on the site or IMs via AIM or Yahoo, get some e-mails. Keep records of all this stuff written down and on your computer. Fakes are not going to stand up to this scrutiny and won't want to leave a lot of traceable info. Note, though, that some of these things will not be something everyone has. Many reputable hobbyists don't have business licenses, and some pro places don't have their own web domains. Some of these things not being available to you is no big deal. None of them being there is.
Third, if possible and practical, meet the photographer first in a public place like Starbuck's or Border's to see each other face to face, be sure of who you're talking to, and see if you're comfortable with one another. There should be no issue with you bringing someone along for this! Many photographers (often myself included) do not work with models one-on-one most of the time, in this case the photographer might bring an assistant to meet you as well. If the photographer can't do this, it's not a bad thing, per se. He or she might be very busy, or distance might be a factor. If I'm blowing in to California for a couple of days and doing a bunch of shoots (which happens about twice a year) I do not have time to meet everyone first. At the meet don't be afraid to ask to see the photographer's ID to verify who he says he is.
During steps 2 & 3, communicate with the photographer. Get all the details straight over what they want, what they expect, what the release (if any) will say, what your allowed usage of the images should be, what to expect on the shoot, etc. If the photographer doesn't allow escorts, ask why and then make a judgment as to whether you feel safe. If you don't feel safe with the photographer, do not work with that person. The most foolish thing I've heard is "I don't feel safe, I'll just take an escort!"
Fourth, on the day of the shoot make sure someone reliable knows where you're going to be, and with whom, and at what times, and you can make sure the photographer knows this. When you show up, call your friend on your cell (and if you don't have a cell take $25.99 to 7-11 and get a pay as you go phone...again, if you can't/won't take this kind of step maybe you should reconsider this) and tell them "Hey, I'm here with so and so, like I told you, we should be shooting here at _________ until about (time), I'll call you when I've left. I might check in if we take a break." Then check in!
Some models have commented they need a driver. Reasonable photographers shouldn't have a problem with someone bringing you, coming in briefly to say hello, then leaving until you're done. Of course your check-in calls would be to that person. My only issue with this is that I feel the model should have her own transportation nearby in case the photographer's a jerk & she needs to be able to leave. But in general a driver scenario should be no issue. If the photographer is giving you a ride, there should similarly be no issue in taking a minute to say hello to your bf/room mate/dad (if over 18 & living with parents) before you go.
Does saying "no escorts" mean the photographer wants you alone? Not necessarily :)
Find out if there will be other models at the shoot, talk to them, check out who they are. Maybe carpool, or make sure you all get there at the same time. Another good thing to discuss here is the possibility of a makeup artist (MUA). Can you both mutually agree on one? (if it's a TF* shot be prepared to pay for it or split the cost!) Don't try to pass off your friend from the MAC counter as an MUA as an excuse for an escort, either. The same goes for a hairstylist & wardrobe person. Ditto for asking about an "assistant" for you. You should ask the photographer if he's going to have an assistant, and ask for that person's references as well. I will note here I do not believe a photographer should ever say "bring an escort, I'll use them as an assistant," this is highly unprofessional due to several risk factors.
On the off chance there is a problem with the photographer, don't be quiet! Do not be afraid to say no, and if necessary walk out. As noted here, saying "NO!" generally halts BS, and when it doesn't the models can generally just leave. Sure, you won't get photos, but are they worth it at that point? If something criminal happens GO TO THE COPS. If the photographer's just a jerk and treats you badly or violates your agreements, let people know...but be honest. Don't talk trash because you didn't get along or don't like your photos, and work hard to resolve issues over things like CD delivery before going public. Become a reference & part of the community...again, this is networking that can only help you.
Does all this sound like work? You BET! This's a JOB! Even if it's a HOBBY it's a job!
Do you expect the photographer to put time & effort in to making this work & making the photos look good? Well you should, too!
As noted, not only should these tips keep you safe but they should step you up in terms of who you're working with. Of course there are always exceptions, and times when you need to be more stringent. If someone is new and has few or no references, the escorted pre-shoot meet & driver who stays nearby are more important! Again, you will need to use your judgment.
Good luck, and be safe SENSIBLY!