The criminalization of sex work is based in nothing more than petty moral outrage. – Chris Sosa
While sex workers were celebrating the growing recognition among decent people that sex work prohibition is nothing less than the violent suppression of consensual sexual behavior, the most rabidly-prohibitionist government on the planet was scheming to prove the pro-decriminalization forces correct by unleashing yet another act of violence against peaceful businesspeople. Like Escorts.com and MyRedbook before it, the venerable gay escort site Rentboy was raided by federal officials anxious to put on a good show:
Federal agents raided the Manhattan headquarters of Rentboy.com as part of a money laundering and state prostitution investigation Tuesday…Seven people, including CEO Jeffrey Hurant, were arrested…Department of Homeland Security agents and members of the NYPD, which assisted in the raid, were seen removing boxes from the offices…More than $1.4 million from six bank accounts was seized in connection with the probe…the government said it was taking steps to shut down the website…”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…Kelly Currie [bloviated]…
As it later turned out, the raid was not justified under the typical excuse of “money laundering”, but rather under a different infinitely-elastic federal “crime” statute, the Travel Act of 1961:
…the Travel Act makes it a federal crime to use the mail or interstate or international travel or communications for the purposes of engaging in certain illegal acts or for distributing the proceeds of certain illegal acts. The list of illegal acts covered by the law includes crimes like gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking, extortion, bribery, and arson. This is not a complete list…these…acts don’t have to be federal crimes to be covered by the Travel Act. They can be violations of the laws of the state where the crime took place…Rentboy.com allegedly violated New York’s laws against prostitution, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office…is arguing that Rentboy.com facilitated and promoted prostitution crimes across state and international borders…
Though by the timing it may seem that this was intended in retaliation for Amnesty International’s call for decriminalization (which essentially reveals the US as among the world’s most oppressive regimes as far as sexual freedom is concerned), or in reaction to the Ashley Madison debacle, in actuality the feds can’t do anything that quickly; this has been planned for months. The usual “sex trafficking” rhetoric used to cram these pogroms down the credulous public gullet was notably (and tellingly) absent here; it was all talk of
sin crime and chastisement prosecution rather than “rescue” and “exploitation”. Because while women are delicate, chaste little fluffy-bunnies who could never ever ever conceive of a pragmatic motivation for sex, men are perverted abusers who are never more than an errant thought away from criminality (unless they’re government actors, of course, in which case they’re totally incapable of evil). But all snark aside, the government actually had very compelling reasons for the raid…1.4 million reasons, to be exact.
In the long run, though, it may prove very expensive for the prohibitionists. As I’ve complained on a number of occasions, mainstream gay rights organizations seem unconcerned at best and hostile at worst to sex worker rights, despite the fact that members of the GLBT community are disproportionately represented among both sex workers and clients (many closeted gay men rely almost entirely on escorts for male contact). Gay, Inc has obsessively pushed its white-picket-fence married-couple big-table fantasies to the exclusion of the majority of queers who will never want lifelong committed monogamy, despite the fact that the entire gay rights movement owes its origin to sex workers. But special-interest groups don’t simply disband once they’ve achieved their original goals; indeed, they actively seek out new goals so as to justify their continued existence. Now that picket-fence queers have every conceivable right their straight vanilla counterparts enjoy, Big Gay will need a new campaign to pursue…and the feds may have just provided it. The personal information of thousands of closeted gay men is now in the hands of evil monsters who view human beings only as points to be racked up, and if that’s not a gay rights issue I’m not sure what is; even the hopelessly-square Advocate reported on Lamba Legal’s pro-decriminalization stance (though its headline idiotically asked, “Decriminalize sex work?” as if they didn’t quite get it). When the victims are women, most Americans seem content to swallow the patronizing & agency-negating “rescuing trafficked girls” narrative, but since the victims are men this time journalists seem to have suddenly awakened en masse. The Huffington Post‘s reporting on the issue is typical of what I’ve seen since Tuesday:
The site has operated within public view for many years. This is not a secretive, dark web enterprise hidden from the public eye. It’s a popular online destination that allows escorts to set their own rules and rates. RentBoy’s platform gives its escorts a degree of agency that sex workers forced to walk the street or be managed by a pimp simply do not have…The Department of Homeland Security…took millions of dollars and ripped six employees from their homes. While these employees face huge financial and reputational damage, thousands of sex workers who rely on RentBoy as a safe place to conduct business could find themselves in genuine danger…The United States has a responsibility to reform its outdated and violent laws around sex work. RentBoy’s high-profile raid should make us think about all the quiet acts of violence committed by our government against sex workers…We supposed-progressives chant about bodily autonomy and criticize the American Right for denigrating women, but we participate in the same denigration when we shame sex workers who conscientiously exercise authority over their bodies…
There’s nothing in that excerpt that doesn’t also apply to female sex workers and our advertising venues, but without the “sex trafficking” smoke and mirrors many of these writers appear to be recognizing it for the first time. Though I have the deepest sympathy for everyone who will be hurt by this monstrous injustice, it may be that the Rentboy raid was the biggest blunder the prohibitionists ever made; if it attracts the big Gay guns and makes sex worker rights “safe” for ordinary people to talk about again, decriminalization is already on the way.