More LGBT groups, human rights organizations and sex worker rights groups condemn the raid

After the federal government raided and shutdown the popular worldwide male escort website Rentboy.com several LGBT and human rights organizations have blasted authorities.

Coincidentally just days before the raid a joint statement was released by the Transgender Law Center, Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Center for Transgender Equality supporting a resolution by Amnesty International that calls for the decriminalization of sex work.

Last week SFGN published statements from a half dozen organizations condemning the raid and supporting Rentboy including the Human Rights Watch, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force, The Global Forum on MSM & HIV, Transgender Law Center, and the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance.

Here’s what several more organizations had to say:

What we do know is that criminalizing sex work and shutting down services like Rentboy.com make the LGBT community less safe.

Whether because LGBT people — particularly those of color, transgender women, and youth — face job discrimination, family rejection, homelessness, and criminalization or because our bodies and desires are at once demonized and exoticized, our community has long-turned to the sex industry for critical means of support and survival. Data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, for example, has shown that transgender people engage in sex work at a rate at least 10 times that of cisgender women, and at least 13 percent of transgender people who experience family rejection have done sex work at some point in their lives.

When your body is a site for harassment, your health care is withheld, your ability to walk down the street is criminalized, your identity is called a “social experiment” but you still dare to survive, the sex industry can offer not only an avenue for survival but also for affirmation. And for those who are able to utilize online platforms to meet clients, these platforms provide a safer alternative to street-based work where there is less time to negotiate safety needs and higher risk of violence from both clients and law enforcement.

We at the ACLU have supported the decriminalization of sex work since 1977. Yet here we are almost 40 years later, and the resources of our federal and state law enforcement agencies are invested in shutting down a website that increased safety and harmed no one.

Unfortunately, we in the adult industry have plenty of experience with these raids. From our inception as a legal business in the late 60s, adult film makers and workers have been surveilled, censored, raided and harassed by law enforcement units from vice squads to the FBI. In the past few years, adult performers, producers and service providers have protested as their bank accounts were shut down, their health records subpoenaed and their right-to-work violated by misguided moralists. No matter what the tactic, the goal is the same – push us into the shadows and silence our voices.

Our industry is diverse; many of us have different needs and concerns. Time after time, this has been used to divide us; performers against providers, producers against performers, straight against gay. However, it is clear that if we do not unify in the face of these assaults, the industry we have all worked so hard to build will crumble. Instead, our differences should be our strength – our unity in the face of censorship, our secret to survival. At times like these, it is more important than ever that we amplify each others voices and come to each others defenses, even when it means a risks to ourselves.

You can read more about Jeffrey’s case and donate at RentBoyFund.org.

The criminalization of sex work fosters violence, stigma, and marginalization. Harm Reduction Coalition affirms a harm reduction approach to sex work which prioritizes creating conditions that provide sex workers with information, support and resources that allow them control and autonomy over their labor to reduce their risks for violence, trauma, HIV, and other harms.

Harm Reduction Coalition believes that the Rentboy.com charges represent misuse of federal investigative resources and prosecutorial power. We call upon our partners and allies in public health, human rights, harm reduction, HIV, and the LGBT and feminist movements to join us in condemning this assault on sex worker autonomy and to support harm reduction over criminalization.

This we know at Lambda Legal, from work we and our sister organizations do for people involved (or profiled as involved) in street economies, including sex work for survival:

- Violence is devastating the lives of transgender women of color.

- Members of our communities who experience the criminal justice system — police, courts, and prisons — face harassment and sexual violence.

- Our young people — when rejected by their families and unsupported by services that lack competence for LGBTQ individuals — are left to the streets in epidemic proportion.

- Discrimination everywhere from schools to workplaces limits lives.

Following the raid of Rentboy.com…I told the Daily Beast:

“We know that across our community there are people who are marginalized and vulnerable due to any number of discriminatory factors. [For example, there are] young people and adults who have been turned out of their homes. They’ve been harassed or discriminated against in education and employment. Their options are very limited. There are many people out there who are using sex exchange as a means of survival and putting food on the table or a roof over their heads.”

“…when customers are criminalized, there is downward pressure on sex workers to keep what they are doing hidden, perhaps remote, perhaps unprotected. It makes it more difficult for people to negotiate boundaries and barriers like condoms and overall to make themselves safer when they are working in a criminal framework as opposed to a decriminalized framework. This really affects the whole system.”

Sex workers & the LGBTQ community have been advocating for decades that criminalization and policing of the sex trade and those profiled put communities at risk of violence and exploitation. Laws against the sex trade have always been used to police the bodies of marginalized communities, especially LGBTQ and communities of color. When sex workers are prosecuted under these laws, it can become harder for them to find mainstream work because of their criminal record. The closure of Rentboy is the latest in a long history of abuses of people in the sex trade that puts these communities in more vulnerable and sometimes dangerous positions.

Rentboy was one of few websites male adult workers could use to find clients. Rather than the “worldwide prostitution ring” news articles have called it, Rentboy provided an opportunity for many to find economic security. Rentboy.com also helped form HOOK Online, a resource for men in the adult industry. This resource provides safety tips, an opportunity for a college fund, some legal advice and a way for adult male service providers to exchange ideas and keep each other safe from violence.

Rentboy.com is just the latest website to be targeted. Interestingly, unlike MyRedbook.com (also raided by the federal government) and Craigslist Erotic Services (shuttered by political pressure), no one has justified the raid on Rentboy as necessary to stopping human trafficking or protecting any victims. The site simply provided a safer place for escorts to meet and screen clients and share information with each other. Sex workers consistently say they find it safer to screen clients online than on the street. Closing down such websites directly increases the risk of harm to sex workers. That is the effect of criminalization.

For too many LGBTQ people, participation in street economies is often critical to survival, particularly for LGBTQ young people and transgender women of color, who face all-too-common family rejection and vastly disproportionate rates of violence, homelessness, and discrimination in employment, housing, and education. The lack of supports for our young people is disastrous, and the fact that any of them lack other options than sexual exchange is a community tragedy. And even LGBTQ young people and adults who are not doing sex work, particularly those of color, are often profiled and arrested under prostitution laws, contributing to high rates of incarceration.

Such realities seem to be lost on those who have argued recently in favor of keeping sex work criminalized. Decriminalization of sex work would “protect the very people that cause it,” wrote the Washington Post editorial board—but the forces driving people to trade sex for money cannot be arrested: the need to pay bills, feed yourself and your family, and keep a roof over your head. If we want to give people better opportunities, it’s hard to see how arrest and prosecution further that goal.

Anti-Violence Project believes that these types of raids, and the stigma of online hook-ups generally, perpetuate a narrative that the LGBT communities, and in particular gay men, are deviant and undeserving of support. Although circumstances differ, this harkens back to the "false arrests" of gay men in adult bookstores and sex stings in public parks – all targeted at rooting out "deviance."

This narrative is inherently anti-LGBTQ and is a part of the foundation of anti-LGBTQ bias that creates all violence against LGBTQ people. Until we address the general bias, discrimination and hatred that LGBTQ people face in this country, we will not end this violence.

AVP believes in and uses a harm reduction model when working to prevent violence. That is, we provide services to all survivors of violence, regardless of circumstances in which the violence occurs. We believe this is critical to responding to and preventing violence, because when violence is driven underground by stigma, embarrassment or fear, survivors of that violence not only fail to get the support they need, but also may face increased risk of future violence.

This action appears to be a blatant, morally-driven discriminatory attack on gay consensual sex. The New York Times Editorial Board have stated that the criminal complaint that resulted in this raid was ‘so saturated with sexually explicit details, it’s hard not to interpret it as an indictment of gay men as being sexually promiscuous.’ Many USA activists, LGBT community members and commentators have highlighted the increasing climate of homophobia that they identify as having accompanied the tenures of Mayor De Blasio and the Commissioner of NYPD, William Bratton.

NSWP’s opposes all forms of criminalization and other legal oppression of sex work (including sex workers, clients, third parties, families, partners and friends). The term ‘third parties’ includes managers, brothel keepers, receptionists, maids, drivers, landlords, hotels who rent rooms to sex workers and anyone else who is seen as facilitating sex work. Sex workers and our allies actively campaign for full decriminalization of sex work for a number of reasons, including promoting safe working conditions and labor rights for sex workers; Increase access to health services and reduce sex workers’ risk of HIV and STIs; Increase sex workers’ access to justice; Reduce police abuse and violence; Help to tackle exploitation and coercion when it does occur.

Sex workers need to be able to communicate openly with clients and managers without constantly fearing arrest, police harassment or worse. Sex workers often use advertising websites to screen clients for their own safety.

 Related: Rentboy Raid Inspires Activists From Coast to Coast


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