The former CEO of online escort site Rentboy.com has been sentenced to six months in prison after the judge overseeing the case said she wanted to send a message to owners of similar sites that online prostitution will not be tolerated.
Jeffrey Hurant had previously pled guilty to promoting prostitution on his website, which was billed as the largest site for male escorts in the world. Even as he was being sentenced, he defended his actions, saying his site allowed sex workers to avoid some of the dangers typically associated with sex work.
Yet despite acknowledging the “good” the site did on behalf of sex workers, U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie noted that prostitution was still illegal. In addition to the prison sentence, she also fined Hurant $7,500, saying: “Almost two decades of committing a crime. That can’t go unpunished.”
Hurant and six of his staffers were arrested in August 2015 after federal agents raided the company’s headquarters. They were charged with conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promoting prostitution across state lines. The charges were eventually dropped against the other employees.
According to NBC New York, prosecutors had sought some sort of a prison term for Hurant to deter other escort services from similar conduct.
Lawmakers, civil rights organizations, and LGBTQ advocates warned that handing down a tough sentence would send the wrong message to the LGBTQ community. Following the Rentboy raid, many noted that federal authorities chose to go after a gay website instead of a number of sites oriented towards heterosexuals, with some advocates even accusing authorities of singling out the LGBTQ community for punishment.
New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) said in one of those letters to the court that the case “harkens back to a dark chapter in our nation’s history when the government used its vast resources to target and threaten LGBT adults by exposing their private consensual sexual activity.”