Last month, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York finally dismissed charges against six employees of the adult advertising directory Rentboy. Unfortunately, charges against Jeffrey Hurant, who owned and ran the site for nearly twenty years, remain. The charges are egregious and steeped in the outdated biases about gay sex and sex work. The Free Speech Coalition joins the five LGBT members of the New York City Council in calling on Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Jeh Johnson, to drop the charges against Hurant, as it did against Rentboy’s six employees.
Hurant is charged with “promoting prostitution” and “money laundering.” Those of us who have worked in the adult industry for any significant length of time are familiar with these loaded phrases, and how loosely law enforcement interprets them. Throughout our history, they have been used to chill speech, to push workers into the shadows, and to remind all of us — adult filmmakers, performers, dancers, retailers, escorts and activists — that the government may throw us in jail and seize our assets (as they did with Hurant) on the flimsiest of pretexts, merely by invoking these judicial maledictions.
Hurant’s indictment reads like pulp fiction — breathless descriptions of acts and equipment, and hints of even seamier allegations without any corresponding charges. Adult filmmakers are familiar with these tactics as well, not only because we were forced to fight charges of pandering ourselves in the 1970s, but because they are still used today, by anti-porn activists like Michael Weinstein and Gail Dines, in their attempts to strip away our right to sexual speech.
Could Hurant’s true offense have been that he provided a clean, safe, and legal way for escorts and masseurs to connect with clients? That he ran an upstanding business, built a loyal community empowering its members and didn’t hide? That he spoke up for the rights of his advertisers, and supported his community? Those are the actions that really inflame the moralists, because they conflict with their long-held ideological view of sex work as tawdry, disgraceful and dangerous.
When Hurant was arrested, he was stripped of the ability to defend himself in Kafkaesque fashion. His business was closed, his bank accounts frozen and seized, all tools meant to deny him due process. We ask that our members regard Hurant’s fight as their own, and support him with whatever moral, financial or legal help they can. Donations to the Rentboy Legal Defense Team are much needed, and can be made at RentboyFund.com.
An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.