We talked to sex worker advocates about the potential impact of the NYPD's Rentboy.com raid
This morning, the NYPD teamed up with Homeland Security to arrest Jeffrey Hurant, the CEO of male escort advertising site Rentboy.com, along with six employees, on the charges of furthering and promoting sex work. The arrests included Rentboy.com's social media director, COO and employees who had active profiles on the site. The arrests were made at the website's Manhattan offices, on West 14th Street and 5th Avenue. The employees were specifically charged under the Travel Act, for promoting sex work across state lines. Hurant has now been released on a $350,000 bond and other employees are allegedly out on bond as well.
Six from Rentboy arrested today in NY out on bond. One remaining arrested out of state may still be in custody there.— Melissa Gira Grant (@melissagira) August 25, 2015
A criminal complaint by Department of Homeland Security Agent, Susan Ruiz, showed a surprising depth of research into the ins and outs of the online sex worker business, detailing the circumcision status and preferred sexual proclivities of various workers who have used the website to advertise. Included amongst the evidence in Agent Ruiz’s statement are blog posts, interviews and quotations from harm reduction articles.
"As alleged, Rentboy.com attempted to present a veneer of legality, when in fact this Internet brothel made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution," acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Kelly Currie, said in a statement.
"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," acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York Glenn Sorge said in another statement.
A community organizer from the New York City chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), who wanted to remain anonymous, told Hopes & Fears why she opposed the raid. “The damage done by the NYPD’s actions today is not yet countable in human costs," she said. "Sex workers deprived of their means of doing business will not suddenly go back to their civilian day jobs, but rather be faced with a choice between working under more dangerous conditions by seeing clients who do not come prevetted from a safe distance, perhaps exposing themselves to serious violence, or simply having no source of income at all."
"Heaping criminal penalties on people who are engaged in sex work further victimizes them, and the impact on people who are already marginalized and vulnerable [can] devastate their lives," Hayley Gorenberg, the Deputy Legal Director at Lambda Legal, an organization that promotes the legal rights of LGBT people and people with HIV, told Hopes & Fears. "Many of the people who are affected have experienced discrimination, and abuse in multiple areas of their lives. They may not have had educational and employment opportunities and very often what they are doing can be termed survival sex work to meet basic needs."
“It’s unfortunate to see these tactics being used to cut off people from how they make ends meet just a few days before rent is due, and it’s terrible to see the federal government being so callous in its treatment of marginalized populations," community organizer Kate D'Adamo, who works with sex workers, told Hopes & Fears. "The unintended consequences for sex workers will be very harmful to them and to their families.”
We have also reached out to the NYPD for comment.
As of this afternoon, the Rentboy.com website is offline. Each defendant potentially faces up to five years in prison and a fine of a quarter of a million dollars (which presumably would be levied above and beyond the 1.4 million dollars that Homeland Security has already seized from the business’s accounts today). So far, no sex workers advertising on the site have been reportedly involved in sting operations relating to the site’s takedown. A blog post on The Stranger from Dan Savage contained information from a source who reported that the site does not have email addresses or payment information from customers, as it was used only as a reference and didn't require registration.
Established originally in 1997, Rentboy.com described itself as the “original and largest male escort service online”. Rentboy.com was also a major sponsor of Hook Online, a resource for sex workers to learn about harm reduction and business strategies as well as access sex work-specific health care and legal aid. Hook Online has not yet released a statement regarding how this raid will affect their ability to function and provide services. Their founder is also currently awaiting arraignment.