Rising from the Ashes of Rentboy Comes a New Community for Male Sex Workers
This article appears in VICE Magazine’s Algorithms issue, which investigates the rules that govern our society, and what happens when they’re broken.
It was about 6 a.m. on Tuesday, August 25, 2015, and Jeffrey Hurant was awakened to the sound of his doorbell ringing. Groggy, he dragged himself out of bed, went downstairs, and opened the door, where he came face-to-face with four Department of Homeland Security agents hoisting battering rams, outfitted in tactical gear.
They stomped into Hurant’s house, moving from room to room seizing computers, flash drives, Kindles—anything they could find that could possibly contain the data they were looking for. Hurant—who was the CEO of Rentboy, a website for men seeking male escorts—watched as every electronic device he owned was hauled away. None of the agents would tell him why this was happening. After letting him get dressed, they cuffed him and placed him in a van.
Meanwhile, in another part of New York City, TT Baum, the brand manager of Rentboy’s massage site,, and about a dozen other Rentboy employees were working in the company’s corporate office when DHS agents unlocked the front door and ransacked the place, Hurant and Baum said. Rentboy had existed for 18 years when DHS raided it, and there was nothing secretive about the site. Everyone knew that Rentboy served to connect mostly cis male escorts to their clients, even though no financial transactions were made on the site. If there was any question whether escorts were selling sex, Rentboy’s yearly Hookies awards laid them to rest. Airing on Showtime, the male-escort Oscars featured awards for Best Porn Star Escort, Best Cock, and Best Bottom.
Baum watched while every hard drive, computer, and the phone was confiscated and six of his co-workers were shackled and whisked away. Agents seized 836 terabytes of data from Hurant’s home and Rentboy’s office that day, the equivalent of 1,600 laptops worth of data, Hurant said.
Hurant rode in the DHS van through New York City until it stopped at an ad agency on 23rd street between 9th and 10th, he said. After the agents led him inside, Hurant realized the ad agency was a cover for a secret DHS office. They fingerprinted him, collected DNA samples, and took pictures before taking him to a federal courthouse lockup in Brooklyn. When he got inside, he saw six guys from Rentboy there.
“And then I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what’s happening,’” Hurant recalled. “I didn’t expect it to happen. I mean this kind of advertising had been going on for years… When I started, it was in the back of every magazine. New York magazine had escort ads in it.”
Inside the freezing cold lockup, the six men and one woman were arraigned and charged with promoting prostitution. They each faced five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Hurant’s bail was the highest, at $350,000. His father put his house up as collateral. After nearly eight hours in lockup, they were released.
Within a few days, Rentboy was shuttered.
The feds never fully explained why they targeted Rentboy. After all, it was one of the dozens of escort websites that existed online. Even the New York Times editorial board rose to Hurant’s defence. “The criminal complaint is so saturated with sexually explicit details, it’s hard not to interpret it as an indictment of gay men as being sexually promiscuous,” they wrote. But reasoning aside, when DHS took down Rentboy, they didn’t just destroy a male escort website: they destroyed a network that helped keep thousands of male sex workers safe.
- News Source: Vice