The Manhattan district attorney’s office had its name removed from the press release issued by the Brooklyn-based Office of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York that announced the raid on rentboy.com and the arrests of the gay escort site’s chief executive and six of its employees.
“Cy Vance is understandably distancing his office from the nightmarish raid on an important safety tool for people in the sex trades,” wrote Rico Stone, a spokesperson for The #Hook Up Collective, a coalition of rentboy.com advertisers, lawyers, and community members, in an email. “Whether or not his office contributed to the raid itself, it happened under his watch.”
The Collective organized an August 26 meeting of lawyers, the escorts who advertised on rentboy.com, and others at Judson Memorial Church to inform escorts about their rights and protections. The US Department of Homeland Security, which ran the investigation and conducted the raid with help from the NYPD, may have seized records on escorts and customers.
The press office for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance first notified Gay City News that it had been removed from the release via email on August 26. That office sent a second email and left a phone message about the edited press release on August 27. The press office otherwise declined to comment.
The August 25 raid was covered in New York City media, by some national and international press, and received extensive reporting in the LGBT press and blogs. It has been widely criticized by the LGBT grassroots.
In separate statements, the Transgender Law Center, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the Harm Reduction Coalition, the Global Forum on MSM & HIV, and the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance condemned the raid.
On August 25, Lambda Legal, the LGBT rights law firm, retweeted a statement it issued on August 20 calling for the decriminalization of prostitution. Also signing that earlier statement were the Transgender Law Center, the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Center for Transgender Equality. The statement came after Amnesty International, earlier in the month, called for the decriminalization of prostitution worldwide.
In an August 25 article on the raid, Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda’s deputy legal director, was quoted telling the San Francisco Weekly, “We do not support the criminal prosecution of people for prostitution… Criminal prosecution, in turn, victimizes people who are often vulnerable and marginalized by society.”
Activists are divided as to what these actions indicate about Vance’s role, if any, in the rentboy.com investigation and raid.
“I commend the district attorney for his desire to not be involved or associated with this ongoing war against gay consensual sex,” said Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, an LGBT political group.
William Dobbs, a gay civil libertarian, was more skeptical.
“This very curious development raises questions about Cy Vance’s involvement before his office’s name was removed,” Dobbs said. “Vance’s office, of course, and the other district attorneys in this city prosecute prostitute and john arrests, thousands of them every year, exact number unknown.”