Raiding Rentboy.com Threatens Our Safety

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August 27, 2015
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Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg

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.

And while every one of these tragedies truly threatens our safety and cries out for resources, the federal Department of Homeland Security this week raided Rentboy.com, an online service for escorts of the type that escorts and sex workers say can provide access to work and an additional measure of safety, allowing them to screen potential customers.

Time and again targeted for abuse in criminal justice systems, many members of LGBTQ communities and those who care about them are left to question how our government chooses to deploy resources, in the face of our need to be protected and served. 

Following the raid of Rentboy.com and the arrest of several of its employees, I told the Daily Beast on Wednesday on behalf of Lambda Legal:

“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.”

Lambda Legal recently joined other LGBT groups in supporting the call from Amnesty International to decriminalize sex work. Criminalizing sexual exchange drives the industry further underground and puts people at higher risk for exploitation and violence.