Prosecutors can credibly argue that the site’s operators were breaking the law. But they have provided no reasonable justification for devoting significant resources, particularly from an agency charged with protecting America from terrorists, to shut down a company that provided sex workers with a safer alternative to street walking or relying on pimps. The defendants have not been accused of exploiting sex workers, featuring minors on the website, financial crimes or other serious offenses that would warrant a federal prosecution.
Amnesty International announced this month that it would be pushing for the decriminalization of consensual sex work worldwide. After a lengthy and at times fraught debate, the organization’s experts concluded that sex workers were less likely to be harmed and exploited in places where the trade is lawful. Several gay and transgender rights organizations, including Lambda Legal and the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, issued a joint statement supporting Amnesty International’s position.
The Rentboy.com bust may spook clients and sex workers for a while, but it would be naïve to think it will do much more. Federal authorities should consider whether continuing to spend time and money turning the website’s operators into felons is worthwhile, while far more serious crimes, including human trafficking and sexual exploitation, go unpunished.
I’ll add that I personally support the decriminalization of consensual sex work. I think as long as no one is physically harmed and it’s between two consenting adults, the government shouldn’t be involved.
The male escort website Rentboy.com found it’s NYC offices raided today in a sting operation that saw millions of dollars across several accounts seized and 7 people, including CEO Jeffrey Hurant, arrested and charged with conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promotion prostitution.
Rentboy.com advertises itself as “the world’s destination to meet the perfect male escort or masseur,” and boasts a database of more than 10,500 men in more than 2,100 cities worldwide.
Escorts pay the site up to several hundred dollars to advertise their ‘services’ and customers pay a monthly subscription fee of $59.95, according to the criminal complaint. Founded in 1997, Rentboy is the first and largest website to focus on male escorts and their Twitter page says, “Money can’t buy you love but everything else is negotiable.”
Between 2010 and 2015, the website had more than $10 million in gross proceeds according to NBCNY.
“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.