This essay first appeared in Cliterati on June 29th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.
On June 25th, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation seized the venerable San Francisco escort website, MyRedbook, under the usual vague and evidence-free charges the US government always uses when it wants to destroy peaceful businesses who have hurt no one. This time, as you can see above, the pretenses are “money laundering” and “racketeering”, but others cases include “conspiracy”, “mail fraud” and “tax evasion”. You may believe that these are actual crimes, but the truth is they aren’t (except on paper); they’re simply blunt instruments defined so vaguely that any competent prosecutor can jam nearly any business into one or more of them. Here’s how it works: “racketeering” can mean criminals operating a legitimate business, like when a mobster owns a restaurant. So a “racketeering” charge usually means “we think you committed crimes but can’t prove them, so we’re just going to assume you’re a criminal and prosecute you for owning a regular business.” Any money you’ve deposited is then called “money laundering” on the grounds that you deposited “criminal proceeds” from your imaginary crimes into your legitimate account; “tax evasion” is based on the pretense that you have failed to pay taxes on imaginary income they can’t prove you actually made; “conspiracy” means merely talking about committing the imaginary crimes, and so on. And if you believe that the targeted business is protected by the presumption of innocence, think again. The FBI’s excuses are partly visible in this article:
…Eric Omuro, 53, and Annmarie Lanoce, 40, were arrested during a FBI raid…Both are charged with…interstate travel in the aid of a racketeering enterprise, and Omuro is charged with…twenty-four counts of money laundering…prosecutors say the pair used the mail and the Internet to facilitate prostitution…”The website hosted advertisements for prostitutes, complete with explicit photos, lewd physical descriptions, menus of sexual services, hourly and nightly rates, and customer reviews of the prostitutes’ services”…The indictment seeks the forfeiture of more than $5 million in property and assets Omuro allegedly gained by facilitating prostitution…CNN reports that the shutdown was part of a broad FBI crackdown on child prostitution…In 2011, San Mateo County prosecutors used the site to arrest…suspects who were believed to be pimping underage girls…
The lies about “child prostitution” (unproven three-year-old police “beliefs” do not constitute evidence) are designed to throw up a smoke screen in front of the real motive for the prosecution: “…the indictment seeks the forfeiture of more than $5 million…” That profit motive is both direct (through stealing the owner’s assets) and indirect: though the “sex trafficking” hysteria has proven a bonanza for cops (via government “sex trafficking” grants) and “rescue industry” organizations (via gullible donors), the “authorities” need to manufacture at least a few “victims” and “pimps” to justify the tremendous amount of bread being flushed down the “trafficking” toilet. Every year the FBI conducts a massive series of “sting” operations designed to deceive and entrap sex workers so they can be arrested by local police; their children are abducted and labeled “child sex trafficking victims”, and their spouses or drivers (and male sex workers) are arrested and labeled “pimps”. After the first few operations the FBI announced how many adult sex workers had been arrested, but for the last two years it has hidden that data because a few in the media were beginning to question the morality of spending millions and brutalizing more than 10 women for every teen “recovered”…especially since their “pimp” conviction rate is a mere 4.06%. Given that the label “pimp” is applied willy-nilly that low rate isn’t surprising, but actual convictions aren’t necessary to maintain the appearance of “doing something” against the phantasmal bogeymen the government has conjured to distract the populace from the real economic and social problems it can do nothing about.
Of course, somebody has to pay for this monumental show; as mentioned above, some of the cost is recouped by stealing the victims’ possessions, and the taxpayers (or rather, their children and grandchildren) are stuck with the rest. But there is another cost, a human one, which is mostly borne by sex workers. I estimate more than 2000 sex workers’ lives were destroyed in the latest “Operation Cross-Country”, and the attack on MyRedbook (which was timed to coincide with the “anti-trafficking” games to as to make them seem related when they actually weren’t) will have enormous repercussions for California sex workers:
…My Redbook not only served as a transparent marketplace…for…adult services — it also provided free advertising for sex workers, community for an isolated and marginalized population, and a tool for avoiding dangerous clients. My Redbook served as a stable and thriving online business district for thousands of…workers and a centralized location for welfare, anti-trafficking, and HIV-Prevention services to reach geographically dispersed and hidden target populations. The…action against My Redbook resulted in the sudden loss of a resource thousands of west coast sex workers use to help build community, screen clients, stay safe, and attain economic stability and well-being…The arrest of My Redbook’s owners and the site’s sudden closure epitomize the disruptive, destabilizing and harmful impact of criminalization on the lives of individuals involved in the sex trade. So long as this industry is criminalized, any marketplaces, networks, and community spaces its’ members work to create are subject to criminal proceedings and can easily disappear overnight…
This prosecution also sets a very dangerous precedent; if it succeeds, other advertising and review sites may be next, cutting US sex workers off from the safest, most effective way to work until companies based outside the US appear to fill the gap. One might question the wisdom of attacking an entire industry in such a way as to ensure that money which previously circulated within US borders will now flow overseas, but only if one misunderstands the purpose behind the attacks. The “sex trafficking” hysteria in general, and gigantic police actions in particular, are Roman circuses; they are intended to pander to the bloodlust of the masses rather than to actually accomplish anything concrete, and judged by that standard these tremendous anti-whore pogroms are a howling success.