On Tuesday, federal agents raided the New York City headquarters of RentBoy.com, which advertises itself as “the original and world’s largest male escort site.”
CEO Jeffrey Hurant and six other employees were taken into custody.
The Feds are alleging that $1.4 million of the company’s $10 million proceeds from the past five years were illegally obtained as a “global criminal enterprise,” according to Glenn Sorge, the acting special agent in charge.
The Feds have denied the raid and intended prosecutions are, as some activists have argued, anti-gay.
The raid comes at a time when the legalization of sex work itself is being debated.
B.K.—he wanted this pseudonym to be used rather than his real name—is an advertiser on Rentboy.
This article is distilled from an interview he gave to the writer David Levesley:
I was a companion to many clients, going on dates, and to public and private functions. I was also a volunteer with Hook Online, run by Hawk Kinkaid, COO of Rentboy, writing articles and distributing information and programming on personal safety as an escort, advising on manners, and mental health care for escorts and people who hire them.
Rentboy offered the space for advertisements for men to meet other men with the option to charge for their time.
It is legal to offer your time in exchange for money. What happens between two consenting adults in the privacy of their own space is their own business (Lawrence v. Texas).
If some advertisers choose to use it to promote themselves for prostitution, that is their own business and they are subject to laws and penalties associated with money-for-sex.
Rentboy offered a safe space for men to be sexy and make a living being desirable.
When I heard about what happened this week, I was sad and distraught hearing that my friends and coworkers were arrested and being humiliated.
This raid happened because of money and fear. The Feds want the money that Rentboy has. And fear is a factor because groups who are politically weak are looking for ways to make themselves look better by targeting vulnerable people.
What this event means for gay escorts is that they have the option to come out and campaign for the decriminalization and legitimizing of sex work for sex workers, and removing the stigma and secrecy from being in the adult industry.
Whether or not the allegations of rentboy promoting prostitution are upheld in court, it provided a space for sex workers and other members of the male adult industry to be responsible, transparent, and have discussions of safety, healthy human intimacy, and personal autonomy.
Customers want everything you can dream up. All together, they want a special time for themselves, while having convenience, privacy, and a cleanliness.
The most fulfilling experience I had was with a 23-year-old Chinese visitor, a CEO of a major tech startup.
Our first session was a morning meeting that ended less than hour before he had to meet his future wife for an arranged marriage for the first time.
To say no to his parents’ wishes was unthinkable. Disgraceful. So he seemed to have the clock against him as a free man. After a year, on which I presumed would be our last date, he made a confession: “I broke off my engagement. I can’t marry her if I never feel with her what I feel with you.”
When you provide a space when—and where—men can be their authentic selves, that’s real power. That changes lives. That’s what I and other escorts do when we are at our best.
I have had scary experiences too. An undercover PI pretended to be a visitor to my space and when he unveiled himself, he brought a scary colleague into my home.
He wanted to shake me down for information on a friend in order to get him evicted. The PI threatened to have me arrested and post my information all over Facebook. I was not educated enough back then to know my rights and how to act.
I was competent enough to stay silent and demand them to leave. But the event left me shaken. I felt I had no one to turn to for this harassment and because of being an escort, I did not want to jeopardize college funding. I was angry, I felt violated and unsafe.
I moved on, but even today, I still see the face of the PI with the look of barely suppressed, self-righteous pride he wore as I had to surrender to him at that moment.
Despite the Feds’ raid this week, escorts will still continue to work. All this event did was cause a blip in the escort market. Politicians, CEOS, bankers, movie stars, and the chief of police will still hire, while maintaining a public veneer of heterosexual respectability.
The gay community needs to speak up now. Maybe not everyone agrees with the concept of sex work, but this raid did nothing to help ordinary people have a better quality of life and wasted federal money.
A successful prosecution would strengthen the Department of Homeland Security’s reach into private homes—this would both violate our rights to privacy and serve as a basis for censorship.
Let's not forget some critical LGBT history. Sex workers made up a significant number in the Stonewall Riots who were street sex workers who had had enough. They provided the manpower and street-power that was critical to that key moment in the gay rights movement.
Later, they worked behind the scenes funding money into AIDS research when the HIV epidemic was taking hold.
Today, escorts and sex workers provide real, tangible spaces for people who live in oppressive environments to express their authentic selves, where other outlets are simply not available.
The gay community as a whole needs to acknowledge the large and influential part that escorts and sex workers and other people in the adult industry have in the way they live their lives.
Next, obviously the lawyers will battle it out. The community—hopefully—will speak up. With our resources and positions, we expect to at least make a dent. The federal government is only people. We are people too. We have voices and we can make things happen too.
My advice to escorts is:
Educate yourself about your rights.
Do your taxes.
The government doesn’t give two flips what you do in your private life. They are very annoyed if they don’t get their cut of your money.
This isn’t over: This won’t end with the Feds’ raid. If you are mad, speak up. Support escorts, sex workers and other members of the adult industry.
And if you honestly believe that sex work or escorting is wrong, actively find the men that do it other jobs that will help them take care of their responsibilities, and their families.
If you don’t offer help, resources, contacts, and career development to them yourself, and instead offer your admonishment about what they do for a living, you are not just harming escorts—you’re harming decent people and reducing your autonomy to use your own time and body to live a better life.
Your opinion is worthless if you trash someone but don’t actively participate in helping them have a life that is productive, autonomous, and dignified.