Sex Work

Federal Judge Notes Good Done by Gay Escort Site, Sentences Founder to Six Months in Prison

The law must be followed, even if breaking the law actually makes people safer.

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Jeffrey Hurant
Paul Martinka/Polaris/Newscom

A federal judge Wednesday sentenced Jeffrey Hurant, founder of Rentboy.com, to six months in federal prison for promoting prostitution.

In a turn both remarkable and infuriating, the judge, Margo Brodie, acknowledged that both Hurant and Rentboy.com have done good things for the gay community before sending him off to prison. From The New York Times:

In court papers filed in Brooklyn, Mr. Hurant has pointed out that aside from making money — lots of money — Rentboy permitted prostitutes to move their trade from the streets to the safety of the internet and to work independently of pimps. The company ran Rentboy U, he said, which offered escorts classes in financial management and safe-sex practices. And, he added, it made large donations to the fight against AIDS and H.I.V., working at times with government agencies like the New York City Department of Health.

On Wednesday, a judge in Federal District Court in Brooklyn gave credence to his arguments, saying that while Mr. Hurant had broken the law, he had also done enormous good for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Even amid the overwrought panic over human trafficking in the culture of American sex work, the federal bust of Rentboy.com in 2015 stood out. The site had existed for nearly 20 years and was well-known as a resource for men to connect with male sex workers. It was operating in the open, not via some dark web resource.

When they were busted by the Department of Homeland Security, nobody in the government even tried to claim that anybody had been victimized. The shutdown of the site and the arrest of workers and founder Jeffrey Hurant was based solely because prostitution was illegal and that Rentboy was making millions of dollars facilitating it—which the government then immediately moved to seize.

It wasn't until after the site was shut down that the feds began investigating the possibility that any human trafficking or involvement with underage participants might have happened.

Following the bust, Reason interviewed a client who had been relying on Rentboy.com to find partners for sexual fulfillment. He said he would not be having sex at all if it weren't for the men he had been connecting with through the site. Read the interview here.

On Wednesday Brodie affirmed, "The very thing that was illegal, it also did a lot of good," before sentencing Hurant to less than half the time prosecutors asked for. Apparently she feels bad about it!

To be clear, it is still very possible to find gay escorts online. The sites are a little less obviously named (and given what happened to Rentboy, I'm obviously not going to link to them), and Rentboy's shutdown has probably fragmented the sex work marketplace. The end result is online male sex work operates in a more shadowy, secretive area with fewer safety protections and less of a community. After all, they wouldn't want the government to take note.

Sex work has actually become more dangerous for prostitutes and clients and everybody involved with this case knows it. Enforcing the law as written actually causes American citizens greater harm with the potential to lead to actual human trafficking.

(Small update to respond to the comments: Brodie did have the option to not sentence Hurant to any prison time, and in fact, she gave him the opportunity to essentially beg for his freedom. There was not a mandatory minimum sentence binding her decision here. Apologies for not making that more clear.)

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  1. Enforcing the law as written actually causes American citizens greater harm with the potential to lead to actual human trafficking.

    I’m just glad that this narrow instance is the only case where this statement is true.

    1. Not just is this yet another example of laws that cause greater harm, it’s yet another example of laws that may very well cause greater harm *intentionally* as a strategy to promote compliance with the law. Basically, taking the approach that the risks/consequences of breaking the law aren’t sufficiently severe, so we’ll make them worse to increase compliance.

      Prohibition methanol, the entire f’ing drug war, acetaminophen in opiate painkillers, etc. etc.

      1. Why would anyone care what you think, you’re that idiot who thinks anchor babiez don’t exist.

        1. You are a fucking idiot, who apparently can’t read.

          https://reason.com/blog/2017/08…..nt_6920871

          Here’s some advice: before acting like a giant asshole, try to at least read what you are criticizing and perhaps next time you can avoid being completely wrong.

  2. Well, if Hurant didn’t want to be breaking the law, he should have relied on his elected representatives to look out for the needs of the often-despised minority that is his constituency by changing the law. The law is the law, immutable, and cares not for such human concerns as good or evil or life or justice!

  3. given what happened to Rentboy, I’m obviously not going to link to them

    Like we don’t already know. Not “we”-we, I mean “we” in the sense of anybody here who might be interested in that sort of thing. Or curious about that sort of thing. Even if it was just that one time at summer camp.

  4. The law must be followed, even if breaking the law actually makes people safer

    Isn’t this kinda the point of having a rule of law, Shackadoo?

    1. More of a side-effect. Assuming rule of law is actually a sensible thing to talk about, which I tend to think it is not.

      1. “Assuming rule of law is actually a sensible thing to talk about, which I tend to think it is not.”

        He actually said that folks. He IS that stupid.

        1. Somehow other people managed to understand what I’m talking about. I think the problem here might not be me.

      2. I’m kinda with you there. But as I’ve come to understand, rule of law is kind of a big deal to libertarianism. Maybe I’ve just been misunderstanding arguments that libertarians have been making.

        1. Libertarianism is large, and contains multitudes.

        2. Yeah it’s more accurate to say that rule of law is a big deal to some libertarians. Others, with deeply contused gonads, have begun to ask whether “procedures were followed” is a sufficient description of justice.

          1. It’s generally presented as libertarianism is not anarchy and while they must be minimized there still must be laws. I’ll agree that I haven’t seen all libertarians making that case, but it certainly seems to be the majority.

            1. Having the laws that exist be applied consistently is largely a good thing, in principle. The problem I have with the notion of rule of law is that laws don’t work if most people don’t want to obey them most of the time. When you are in a situation where there are lots of terrible laws that people regularly violate, it’s harder to justify. Unequal application is a problem. But so is equal injustice.

              Then there’s the deeper sort of philosophical anarchist point that laws are just words and it all really comes down to individuals who choose whether to comply with laws and how and when to enforce them. An unbiased, mechanical legal system is not really possible, and not really desirable. We have juries (and nullification, whether people like it or not) for a reason.

              1. I agree completely.

          2. It’s a big deal when you need the concept to buttress an argument.

          3. If you are going to have laws they need to be generally applicable. Giving officials wide discretion on enforcement will result in unequal application.

            If memory serves, Shackford’s article when the arrests were made at Rentboy, included some special pleading that prostitution laws should not apply to businesses that catered to gays because gay men were uniquely unable to find sex partners socially.

            The big problem is looking to apply a law to every human interaction and circumstance, which presents its own challenges liberty in general.

            1. because gay men were uniquely unable to find sex partners socially.

              Shackford’s clearly never met me.

            2. “[…] some special pleading that prostitution laws should not apply to businesses that catered to gays because gay men were uniquely unable to find sex partners socially.”
              … dammit, now I’m going to have to archive binge to see if that argument was actually made, and if it was as stupid as it sounds.

              1. Okay, I think you’re referring to the 25 Aug 2015 article by Shackford, “6 Thoughts on the Rentboy.com Bust from 1 Angry Gay Libertarian”

                Link, if it works

                His point “3” is kind of a weird rambly statement that’s vaguely defending prostitution for old lonely people? I dunno. I could see how you got your statement from that, but it’s pretty lacking in a strong thesis or conclusion statement.

                1. This entire thread of analysis is bizarre, as though Elizabeth Nolan Brown hadn’t been writing thousands upon thousands of words (including some today!) for Reason about the brutal way the government attacks heterosexual sex workers as well.

                  1. Yeah, well, for fear of back-seat-editing, your point 3 in that article is weird and rambly. I’ve seen convincing defenses of legal prostitution. That’s why I’m (broadly) for legal prostitution. But your statement there was long-winded, skipped between a couple of thoughts, and didn’t end or start with a strong statement.

                    It’s definitely a case where even if I agree with the point I think you were trying to make, you didn’t do a very good job of conveying it.

                    1. It was a rush job back then. The bust had just happened earlier that day. I certainly would craft it more carefully now.

                      But there’s more to the story than that. There’s a reason I made sure to identify myself as a “gay libertarian” in the headline. When the bust happened, there was hardly a peep from he gay community–very little on blogs or from activists groups. (And to be very clear, Rentboy.com was essentially Backpage for gay men. It was a huge site. Even gay guys who had no interest in sex work, either buying or selling, knew what it was.)

                      My target for that piece wasn’t actually Reason readers and libertarians. It was actually the gay community and those on the left who were being sold the whole “sex work is actually human trafficking” narrative. Nobody was talking about the issues in that blog post when I wrote that.

                      But they sure were afterwards. Because I was so early on the outrage (and had read the complaint to back it up), that piece went very viral outside the libertarian circle well into the gay community. It was quoted and referenced by several high-profile gay blogs (and Dan Savage, if I recall). And so a bunch on non-libertarians were being connected to an analysis piece that originated from a libertarian perspective. It was most certainly my most “successful” piece that year in terms of bringing eyeballs to Reason.com.

                    2. The true audience for that piece, and often many of my pieces that get into sex work from the gay side, aren’t libertarians at all, but the kind of folks on the left who are cheerleading on the Kamala Harrises of the world.

                      I know I don’t need to sell y’all that laws against prostitution are bad and wrong. If I wrote these pieces solely for a libertarian audience, they’d be all of 50 words. Stuff like this is meant to be shared with people who don’t really think about how government attacks on sex work actually play out in the real world. And so I kind of tend to focus on unintended consequences of regulations when I’m targeting those folks, because it’s more compelling to that audience.

        3. Each unique individual gets to make his own laws that he thinks are best. Since the lack of government transforms everyone into a hyper-rational actor in a good mood, people will tend to agree on them. Unicorn trees start sprouting, it’s win-win-win.

          1. I knew you’d have an interesting take on some other point, Captain Bumbles.

            1. For unconventionally large values of both “interesting” and “point.”

          2. Since the lack of government transforms everyone into a hyper-rational actor in a good mood, people will tend to agree on them

            Tony – just to harp back on a point from yesterday, this right here would be an example of your “libertarianism is bad because it won’t bring about utopia” argument that you claim never to make.

            1. The claim is that libertarianism is itself utopian, by which I mean it relies on a bunch of outlandish assumptions about how humans will behave under certain conditions. The whole problem, you could say, is a woefully simplistic appreciation of the complexities of human beings. And actually a directly false conception of them–that we’re atomistic rather than inherently social. That we actually have the ability to create limited government when our very instincts make us form the government that suits our needs as a social species.

              1. I can’t tell whether your atomistic libertarian strawman is constructed more from ignorance or dishonesty, but it probably doesn’t matter.

                1. If I were to say “Libertarians are slippery little shits who deny they ever claimed something every time you say they did,” you’d probably call that a strawman too.

              2. “We”.

                That is what is stupid about this comment- that “we” form government. “We” DON’T. “Some” of us form government- the biggest group of somebodies- and IMPOSE it upon everybody “else”. And indeed, it is, in fact, human nature to impose our will on others through brute force when the opportunity arises.

                EVIL human nature. The evil that libertarianism seeks to slay- Tribalism.

                If there is one thing I despise about Socialist and Nationalist alike, it is their insufferable need to confuse “the majority” with “The People”.

                There is only 1 “The People”: THE MARKET. The only system that allows 100% of the people to make decisions, instead of arbitrarily decreeing that a random 51% (or 44%!) of said people have a mandate from a higher power to speak for the 49% (or 56%) who lost the election. That is what people like you do not understand.

                1. In the market, the more money you have, the more voice you have. In a democracy, everyone’s voice is supposed to be equal.

                  Why do you absolutely devalue the latter? Why do you think the very wealthy should have de facto control over everyone else?

  5. Did the Reason Foundation get a heavy donation from a woodchipper company this morning?

    1. Somewhere in Westchester, Preet Bharara woke up with the biggest morning wood he’s ever had in his life.

      1. I saw what you did there.

  6. When they were busted by the Department of Homeland Security, nobody in the government even tried to claim that anybody had been victimized.

    No women, no victims.

    1. Everyone involved had agency.

      And we can’t go around accusing gay people of human trafficking: bad PR.

      1. And we can’t go around accusing gay people of human trafficking: bad PR.

        That’s the most laughable part, IMO. I can only imagine pimp after pimp and john after john have been marched in front of Margo Brodie and sentenced as requested and/or by the book. But because Rentboy has done some socially justice-y stuff generally tailored to a favored political class, it suddenly becomes a shame that she has to carry out the law as written.

    2. And, as everyone knows, no woman ever would have sex with several partners per day for leisure, whereas all gay men are natural whores who would gladly man the glory hole for 12 hours a day for free.

  7. Oh no–a gay prostitution ring was treated like a straight prostitution ring!!!

    Yes, yes we all think people own their own bodies and should be able to do as they please with them. Huzzah!

    Can we move on now, Scott? Or do we have to hear every ounce of minutiae about Rentboy?

    If it’s so great, shut down and reopen legally in Nevada. And then use the money to campaign for national legalization.

    1. If it’s so great, shut down and reopen legally in Nevada.

      Still hazy about how this whole internet thing works, eh?

      1. Still hazy about how this whole internet thing works, eh?

        I don’t think he is or, at least, there would seem to be a lot of complex legal nuance involved in distinguishing meeting singles through rentboy.com and meeting singles through bunnyranch.com.

        1. Meeting singles in places other than Nevada?

          1. Were rentboy’s services limited exclusively to New York? More directly, does the internet work differently in New York than it does in Nevada?

      2. There’s a limited amount of space, and we can’t waste any on the fags?

        1. Someone made him think about fags, and that makes him uncomfortable.

          1. It’s always a shame to hear about people who can’t just enjoy their semi-boner.

    2. Oh no–a gay prostitution ring was treated like a straight prostitution ring!!!

      Arguably/technically not. At least, I doubt judges sentencing perps of straight prostitution rings are hemming and hawing about the unfairness of the law and any good social services provided by straight prostitution rings before handing them half the required/requested sentence. Doubly so in NYC.

    3. Someone forced you to read the article?

    4. It’s tiresome seeing reports about those people.

      1. It’s the MALE GAYZ!

    5. Gotta say–it’s kinda unsettling to see so many ‘libertarians’ whose first reaction is SJW style identitarianism.

      The story is dull.

      There’s nothing unusual or striking about it. The only unusual thing is that it’s a gay prostitution ring.

      And we’ve had to hear every little thing that happens–is Scott a stakeholder in rentboy or something?

    6. … did I miss the deluge of Rentboy.com articles or something? I mean, this is the first one I remember seeing in quite a while. And checking the “prostitution” tag, it appears it’s the first one on Rentboy since at least March.

      1. Once is more than enough. Scott should write about something fresh and of particular concern to libertarians, such as Clinton’s email server.

  8. On Wednesday Brodie affirmed, “The very thing that was illegal, it also did a lot of good,” before sentencing Hurant to less than half the time prosecutors asked for. Apparently she feels bad about it!

    Unless there was a mandatory minimum, she could have sentenced him to pick up trash on the highway one weekend or give some lecture to a high school or something.

    1. as a federal prohibition, I just kind of assumed there were minimums at play.

  9. “Legit” dating sites basically do the same thing.

    Solution: rebrand as a dating site, charge a subscription fee with a microtransaction credit to send each message to a gigo–er, “profile”, and make them ownership partners who get a cut of the revenue generated.

    1. So like an AirBnB for gay sex. This will fly in places like New York, they love them some AirBnB out there.

      1. Solution: rebrand as a dating site, charge a subscription fee with a microtransaction credit to send each message to a gigo–er, “profile”, and make them ownership partners who get a cut of the revenue generated.

        This is essentially what Azathoth! is being mocked for above. Prostitutes in Nevada are generally sanctioned as independent contractors. The business is just facilitating negotiations. What takes place in their places of business in Nevada is legal. Legality outside the businesses purview is/would be up to the involved parties. Less AirBnB, more ?ber.

        Ashley Madison, Adult Friend Finder… the business model is not new and “straight” ones get shut down and/or forced to rebrand routinely. Part of the problem is the business model itself. You’re either actively facilitating something illegal or you aren’t exactly providing a (unique/proprietary) service to your customers.

        1. Why is this a federal case? Prostitution is legal in many parts of Nevada so not illegal in all states. Looks to me like federal overreach. And the Travel Act ? Which usually rides along on Foreign Corrupt Practices charges.

          As usual the cops are after the money. Looting people who are not causing harm.

  10. Enforcing the law as written actually causes American citizens greater harm with the potential to lead to actual human trafficking. is literally the judge’s job.

    I think prostitution should be legal, but let’s not go down the path that is devoid of rule-of-law. If a judge can pass judgement against a law as written because you dislike the law, he/she can do the same against a law you favor.

    1. “Enforcing the law as written is literally the judge’s job.”
      Wrong. The judge’s job is to pursue justice. If we just wanted them to blindly apply the law, we would have replaced them with robots already.

  11. I have a serious question here, what would have been the consequences if the judge had just refused to sentence here?

  12. Hrm. Based on the comments, I guess I should not have left out the part where she made him try to convince her not to give him any prison time at all. This was indeed an option–there was no mandatory minimum in play. My mistake there.

    1. That would have still resulted as a conviction on Hurant’s record, correct? I guess my question is separating the conviction from the sentence.

    2. I added a little note at the bottom explaining that the judge was not required to sentence him to prison time.

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