Manhattan authorities raided the offices of Rentboy.com, one of the world’s largest male escort services, on allegations that the site was offering illegal prostitution services in the guise of companionship. The site that allows its users to post pictures and physical descriptions of themselves in search of ‘companionship’ has been brought down since with the chief executive and six other workers booked in court.
Rentboy.com Chief executive Jeffrey Hurant, together with six workers were arrested during the raid on Rentboy.com’s Manhattan offices on Tuesday afternoon. They were charged with “conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promoting prostitution” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Eastern New York.
U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie said, "As alleged, 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."
Rentboy.com was founded in 1996 and prides itself of being “the original and world’s largest male escort site.” The site has almost 10,500 members spread out in 2,100 cities across the world, according to the company’s website. The company also has an active Twitter account where it enjoys some 11,000 followers.
Subscribers to the site pay a “minimum monthly fee of $59.95 and up to several hundred dollars more to advertise their service” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Acting Special agent in charge of Homeland Security Glenn Sorge said of the arrest, "The facilitation and promotion of prostitution offenses across state lines and international borders is a federal crime made even more egregious when it's blatantly advertised by a global criminal enterprise."
After being arraigned in a Brooklyn court, Hurant, 50, told journalists at the scene he did not believe they were conducting illegal activities. He said, "I don't think that we do anything to promote prostitution. I think we do good things for good people, and we bring good people together."
The company allegedly raked in some $10 million between 2010 and 2015.
During the crackdown, authorities seized $1.4 million of alleged criminal money from six bank accounts, while also restricting the domain name Rentboy.com.
Should Hurant and the six others be convicted, they could face up to five years jail time together with fines of up to $250,000.
The war on prostitution has been frustrated with the morphing of the vice in various forms over the last couple of years. Veneers such as ‘companionship’ and ‘escort services’ have made it difficult for authorities to see beyond these veils and expose the rotting underbelly beneath. Backpage.com, a service which accepts U.S. credit card payments and offers very similar services, remains unaffected.
The logic behind the raids is questionable to say the least. Online prostitution services have been shown by both the United Nations and numerous academics to reduce the incidence of violence against providers and have been shown to improve health outcomes for all involved.