If you’ve been wondering what’s going on with Rentboy.com since law enforcement shut it down last summer, the answer is, uh… well, not much, really. Writing for The Nation, Laura Duggan reports that prosecutors have already asked for four delays in the 30-delay deadline to indict senior Rentboy staff, and it seems as though they’re scrambling for charges that’ll actually stick.
Last August, the NYPD and Department of Homeland Security together raided the offices of popular male escort site Rentboy.com, simultaneously arresting seven senior staff members — six of whom were at home and one whom was vacationing in South Dakota. Company CEO Jeffrey Hurant and the other six employees got arrested and charged with conspiring to violate the Travel Act, a rarely-acknowledged antiquated law related to traveling over state lines for sex. With such a coordinated raid, prosecutors surely hoped for charges a little meatier.
Rentboy wasn’t an internet brothel because, for one thing, there is no such thing as an internet brothel. Rentboy didn’t employ escorts; it simply offered them ad space. If a guy wanted to list himself on Rentboy, he did. There were no minors – the site thoroughly checked IDs – the investigation into the site yielded no trafficking victims, and as far as anyone has suggested so far, no evidence of illegal activity on the bookkeeping side.
Special Agent Susan Ruiz used words like “internet brothel” and “global criminal enterprise” to describe Rentboy, an organization which in recent years has done little to hide the nature of its operations. She also took the time in her official report to explain that she had never heard of a rimjob before. Someone needs to get out more often.
In fact, Rentboy quite vocally promotes its work and its advertisers, throwing a lavish awards ceremony called The Hookies each spring in which Rentboy members compete for titles like Best Top, Best Daddy and Best Boyfriend Fantasy. The nominees are usually among each year’s most prominent porn performers – this year awards went to Boomer Banks and Rocco Steele, two of the most widely recognized performers in New York. This year’s awards were held in a club at the Out Hotel, the much-maligned but highly visible gay hotel located just blocks away from Times Square.
While Rentboy CEO Jeffrey Hurant and six senior staff members still await their fate, there may be a silver lining. A diverse network of organizations — including Amnesty International — are suddenly aware that sex work decriminalization is the safest option for everyone, and that consensual sex work is a very different concern than human trafficking.
Furthermore, while the national media covered protests against the Rentboy raid, groups like the Hookup Collaborative and the National Coalition of Rentboys and Allies have sprung up to fight for national sex worker rights. Meanwhile, escorts have scrambled to advertise on offshore websites, hoping the new sites will have the same client reach that Rentboy once did.
(Featured photo via See-ming Lee 李思明 SML)