Male sex workers condemn raid on RentBoy.com.
BY VICTOR MELAMED
Last month, federal police in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, raided Rentboy, a male escort advertising website, arresting the CEO and 6 employees.
This shutdown came less than a week after leading LGBT advocacy organization Lambda Legal along with four other LGBT rights organizations publicly announced support for Amnesty International’s decision calling for the decriminalization of consensual sex work.
Sex workers & many in the LGBTQ community have been advocating for decades that all people have a right to privacy and deserve to be free from government regulation of sexuality. In California, advocates with the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education & Research Project (ESPLER) are challenging the constitutionality of prostitution laws on this very premise. In the meantime, anti-sex work laws continue to inflict harm on the community.
Rentboy was one of few websites male adult workers could use to find clients. Rather than the “worldwide prostitution ring” news articles have called it, Rentboy was a fairly priced, well-designed, and well-run advertising option for male adult entertainers engaging in legal forms of sex work. Rentboy.com helped form HOOK Online, a resource for men in the sex trade. This resource provides safety tips, some legal advice and a way for adult male service providers to exchange ideas and keep each other safe from online predators.
Several in the LGBT male sex work community spoke out last month against the closure of Rentboy.com.
“Rentboy has been a major component of the male sex worker community for years. It really brought male sex workers together. They even just recently started an escort scholarship fund. It’s sad that Homeland Security is spending time and money on bringing down an escort site where adults voluntarily post ads and hire consenting companions,” said Derrick Hanson, Rentboy’s Mr. San Francisco 2011.
“Rentboy.com is more than just an ad site for adult entertainers. They put a lot of time, effort and resources into harm reduction, learning about rights and resources. I’ve advertised with them for 7 years. Thanks to rentboy, I’ve had a roof over my head and food in my belly because of work I consensually chose,” stated Danny Cruz, a male sex worker in Los Angeles.
“As a queer and trans person who is denied job opportunities because of my trans status, this industry has given me the opportunity to feed and help myself. I take several precautions to be safe, but at this point I don’t know how I can move forward in this safely. I’m very worried for my friends [who were arrested in the raid] and want to know they’re okay. This community of sex workers is my family,” said Viktor Belmont, a trans male sex worker and activist in San Francisco.
Charles Hochbaum, a lawyer for rentboy.com’s CEO Jeffrey Hurant, told reporters outside court last month that the case represented a First Amendment issue.
“My client advertises for people who are willing to be escorts, to accompany people for their time and be paid,” he said, adding: “He’s upset and confused about how this legitimate business could become the subject of a Homeland Security investigation.”
As advocates for the human rights of sex workers, the “Sex Workers Outreach Project” (SWOP-USA) stated in a press release last month that it stands against attempts to forcibly eradicate the sex industry.
“For the health and safety of people in the adult industry, SWOP-USA stands with Amnesty International, UN AIDS, UN Women, The World Health Organization, and most recently Lambda Legal, Transgender Law Center, Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), National Center for Lesbian Rights, and National Center for Transgender Equality in demanding the decriminalization of consensual sex work.”