The Gay City News reporter Duncan Osborne – whose coverage has included the use of stings and nuisance abatement lawsuits targeting gay sex venues for prostitution arrests in New York City – published his latest take on the Rentboy.com raid (“Cy Vance: Don’t Blame Me for Rentboy.com Raid,” Aug. 27, 2015). This one focuses on the suspicious distancing of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance from the enforcement action that took down Rentboy.com, despite the fact that the U.S. Attorney on the case originally credited his office for their involvement.
This one includes a quote from Rico Stone, a member of #HookUp. The latter part of Rico’s quote was cut from the article, but we share you the full text below:
Cy Vance is understandably distancing his office from the nightmarish raid on an important safety tool for people in the sex trades. Whether or not his office contributed to the raid itself, it happened under its watch. His office should be just as concerned with the continued questioning, harassment and arrest of people who are or are profiled in the sex trades for carrying condoms, his offices’s raids on people in the sex trades using shared apartments or massage parlors to increase our safety, and the targeting of people of color for prostitution-related arrests and prosecutions in his borough.
In light of the recent Rentboy raid and its impact on people in the NYC sex trades, Persist Health Project is offering 20 minute crisis counseling sessions from 10 am to noon this Friday at 147 Prince Street in Brooklyn, NY.
Persist Health Project provides health care referrals, health education, harm reduction and supportive counseling, herbal health services, peer support, job assistance, and leadership development for women, men, and gender non-conforming people involved with and/or impacted by the sex trade.
If you would like to speak with the press, please consider first connecting to the #HookUp Collaborative account with email@example.com.
This e-mail account is operated by members of #HookUp, and is designed to field press inquiries and connect journalists with people who would like to speak, provided their conditions, including but not limited to anonymity, are respected. If you write us, please be patient as we are a volunteer collaborative with limited capacity. Please help facilitate the process by including the following in your e-mail:
Confirm in your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, that the e-mail you are using is not connected with a legal name or any alias you have ever used: A smart way to add a layer of protection with the press is to set up a dummy e-mail account that is not connected to your legal name or any other name you use, and to contact the #HookUp team with that address and an alias. We insist that you do not share information about your circumstances or your story to this e-mail account.
The conditions for you speaking to the press: This could include being off the record, although it’s less likely press will be interested in an interview they cannot quote. If you plan to speak “on the record” you could require only communicating by e-mail, or only communicating by phone using a phone number not connected to your identity. You may also require that any quotes are pre-approved by you prior to publication. If you plan to meet the reporter in person, please think carefully about where you meet this person and whether any photographs could be taken, particularly in a public place. It may be advisable to meet in a private office in a neutral location for this reason.
In general, the reporter is not calling you. If she is, it is because she hopes that you are involved in the crime as a witness, a victim, or a conspirator, or that you know something about it (people with good lawyers don’t talk to the press when they are involved in a criminal matter, but maybe you will – reporters will always try);
The public has discovered the existence of some segment of the sex industry and is hungry for more details.
Characteristics of the Press Cycle
Typically a short press cycle punctuated by the occasional resurrection of the story when the situation changes (trial, sentencing, another bust, etc.);
Naming/describing/getting photos of the sex workers involved is a high priority;
Getting vivid details of the crime(s) is a high priority;
Tabloids are always most interested in these stories, but some community-based media and local television will also bite;
Few (if any) opportunities to raise other issues.
Things to Think About
It is unlikely to be beneficial to an individual sex worker to be involved in a story about a specific crime or arrest. It could even serve to incriminate you. What are you getting out of this?
If your organization wants to take on criminal justice reform issues, it is even more important to be careful and selective about which stories you decide to be publicly on the record about;
If you are not directly involved, those who are may be facing serious charges and your contribution to media around this story could have implications for someone else’s legal defense strategy. Be sure of what you are doing when you are speaking for others.
Thanks for your interest in the experiences of people who have advertised – and people in community with advertisers – on Rentboy.com, including lawyers, advertisers and community organizers. We need people like you to educate themselves about our life experiences, do research, study, listen and learn. It is possible to do all of this without exploiting people in the sex trades in the process. We have drafted a few questions to assist you in doing that.
Frequently, simply reading the ample research and journalism sex workers have already offered to the world would answer some or most of the questions we get. There are extensive libraries of resources about and by sex workers.
Sometimes the project being proposed would be harmful and needs to be completely re-thought or shelved. Because we are committed to our communities, we work to ensure that any engagement with people in the sex trades won’t leave either individual people or the community as a whole worse off.
If you are still interested, please write email@example.com and include the answers to the following questions:
What is your relationship to escorting or the sex industry?
What, if any, “angle” are you pursuing for a forthcoming piece? How will this information be collected (e.g., written piece, photographs, TV interview), and what conditions of anonymity are you willing to guarantee if requested by the interviewee as a condition of their involvement (e.g., e-mail interview, phone interview, video interview with silhouette and/or voice interference)?
How, if at all, have people in the sex trades been involved in the creation of, planning and execution of this project or story?
How do you believe that this project or story will directly benefit people in the sex trades?
All work on people in the sex trades involves some risk to the people involved. How have you considered these risks and how will you prevent them?
If you are still interested in speaking with someone who formerly advertised on Rentboy.com, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and include the answers to the following questions, in addition to your name, contact information, availability in the next 48 hours, and press affiliation. This information will be shared with
Sometimes the work you are proposing could potentially exploit or harm sex workers while at the same time building your career, research funds, reputation, belief in your own authority and desire for adventure. Please consider this before contacting us and include answers to the questions above.
The #HookUp Collaborative is not affiliated with any company or organization, but is instead a loose working group of people who have advertised – and people in community with advertisers – on Rentboy.com, including lawyers, community members and organizers.
#HookUp views the raid on Rentboy.com in the larger context of criminalization of people who trade sex. We know that the laws used to criminalize people in the sex trades are currently, and historically, used to target people of color, especially trans-women and gender non-conforming people of color. They are not concerned for our safety, but instead would like people who trade sex in rehabilitation programs and/or incarcerated. We can see this when we look at the endless harassment, physical violence, sexual violence, extortion, arrests, criminal convictions, and more, that people in the sex trades face at the hands of law enforcement. The shutting down of Rentboy.com is one more example of the State putting people in the sex trades at a greater risk of harm.
What Do We Know?
On Tuesday, August 25, 2015, seven employees of Rentboy.com were arraigned on charges of interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises. See 18 U.S.C. § 1952. Specifically, subsections (a)(3) and (b)(1). These charges apply to persons who travel “in interstate or foreign commerce or uses the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce, with intent to … promote, manage, establish, carry on, or facilitate the promotion, management, establishment, or carrying on, of any unlawful activity.” The term “unlawful activity” means “any business enterprise involving … prostitution offenses in violation of the laws of the State in which they are committed or of the United States.”
For the Complaint itself, see here (courtesy of Towelroad). The Complaint alleges in ¶ 61 that the state law bases for the prosecution include N.Y.P.L. §§ 230.25 & 230.20. The former, Promoting Prostitution in the Third Degree, provides that “A person profits from prostitution by managing, supervising, controlling or owning … a prostitution business or enterprise involving prostitution activity by two or more prostitutes.” The latter, Promoting Prostitution in the Fourth Degree, provides that “A person is guilty … when he or she knowingly … advances or profits from prostitution.”
Rentboy.com is being targeted by the police and people who have advertised their services on the platform are concerned. The federal search warrant that was executed yesterday resulted in the seizure of personal information and financial data. For instance, the Complaint alleges in ¶ 33 that “Rentboy.com allows payment for advertisements in cash at its office, money order, and credit cart.” However there is no internet card processing system and instead an advertiser must fill out a Credit Card authorization form and send it by fax or e-mail to Rentboy.com. It is possible that the servers seized contain this information.
Need Legal Advice?
Do not discuss anything related to your individual circumstances with anyone whatsoever. In the event you are contacted or arrested by law enforcement, instruct them that you are remaining silent, that you do not consent to a search, and that you wish to speak with an attorney. If you need direct legal representation or you have questions about a pending case, call the Sex Workers Project at (646) 602-5617 to be connected to a lawyer. Being a prospective or actual client of a lawyer is the only way to ensure your statements will be protected by attorney-client privilege.
The #HookUp Collaborative will also be releasing an FAQ sheet in the next several days, which will include more information.
Thinking of Talking to the Press? Hold Up! …
If you would like to speak with the press, please first connect to the #HookUp Collaborative account with email@example.com. This e-mail account is operated by members of #HookUp, and is designed to field press inquiries and connect journalists with people who would like to speak, provided their conditions, including but not limited to anonymity, are respected.
A smart way to add a layer of protection with the press is to set up a dummy e-mail account that is not connected to your legal name or any other name you use, and to contact the #HookUp team with that address and an alias. We insist that you do not share information about your circumstances or your story to this e-mail account.
Want to Organize?
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or keep a look out on social media or this WordPress blog to connect with our community organizing working group.