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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What the Rentboy.com Scandal Means for Sex Workers

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 12:45 PM

VOLT COLLECTION/SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Volt Collection/shutterstock

Just days after five of the country’s top LGBT advocacy organizations echoed Amnesty International’s recent declaration of support for the decriminalization of prostitution, seven employees of the popular gay male escort advertising platform, rentboy.com, were arrested this morning in New York City.

Federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security, with the assistance of NYPD, raided Rentboy’s headquarters on West 14th Street, seizing both digital and paper files and placing 50-year-old CEO Jeffery Hurant, along with six other employees, into custody. Earlier today the U.S. government also issued warrants authorizing the seizure of $1.4 million in “alleged criminal proceeds.”

click to enlarge Screen grab from Rentboy.com - SIOUXSIE Q
  • Siouxsie Q
  • Screen grab from Rentboy.com

In a press release from the Department of Justice, HSI Acting Special Agent in Charge Sorge stated, “The facilitation and promotion of prostitution offenses across state lines and international borders is a federal crime made even more egregious when it’s blatantly advertised by a global criminal enterprise. HSI will use its unique authorities to disrupt and dismantle such organizations and seize the millions of dollars in illegal proceeds they generate.”

Despite clear disclaimers on rentboy.com’s splash page stating “THIS SITE MAY NOT BE USED FOR THE ADVERTISING OF SEXUAL SERVICES OR TO ENGAGE IN ACTIVITIES REQUIRING THE PAYMENT OF MONEY FOR SEX OR OTHER ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES,” which is echoed by many of its advertisers who make clear that they are advertising “for time and companionship only,” the feds are insisting that Rentboy has been operating as an “internet brothel,” which sex worker advocate and journalist Melissa Gira Grant pointed out on Twitter this morning, “is not a real thing.”

“You can’t actually commit prostitution on the internet,” she went on to say while awaiting the arraignment of Rentboy’s employees at a Brooklyn courthouse.
“When LGBT people are prosecuted for sex work, they face alarmingly high rates of harassment and physical and sexual abuse behind bars,” read a joint statement released by Lambda Legal on August 20, and signed in solidarity by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), The Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

If charged, the seven employees arrested will face up to five years of imprisonment and fines up to $250,000.

“For many LGBT people, participation in street economies is often critical to survival,” the statement from Lambda Legal went on to say.

“We do not support the criminal prosecution of people for prostitution,” Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director at Lambda Legal said today, “criminal prosecution, in turn, victimizes people who are often vulnerable and marginalized by society.”

While awaiting the fate of the seven arrested Rentboy employees, journalist and author Melissa Gira Grant tweeted, “If these LGBT orgs are supporting decriminalization, well, Rentboy staff are in jail, their advertisers temporarily out of work.”

Advocates and advertisers will have to wait and see if the LGBT and Human Rights organizations that have recently come out in support of the decriminalization of prostitution will step up to the plate in light of the Rentboy sting.


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Siouxsie Q

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