CityXGuide.com Bust Spurs Sex Workers to Advocate for Change

SAN FRANCISCO — Sex workers need real resources for harm reduction and not criminal prosecutions, according to the Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA (SWOP-USA), which on Tuesday made a statement regarding the recent bust and seizure of CityXGuide.com. Last week, federal authorities announced that the hookup site was taken offline and its Bay Area owner charged in a 28-count federal indictment. In a court filing, operator Wilhan Martono is said to have built a suite of illicit sites — CityXGuide.com, Backpage.co, CAPleasures.com and BodyRubShop.com — promoting prostitution and sex trafficking. “CityXGuide.com’s shutdown is only the latest step in the long history of targeting the entire sex trade in the name of trafficking while disregarding the impact on the very people these shutdowns pretend to protect,” SWOP-USA spokesperson Phoenix Calida said in the statement. “People in the sex trades need real resources — not expensive and media-friendly criminal prosecutions against ad sites used for harm reduction.” Calida noted that the CityXGuide bust was the first time authorities utilized the criminal expansions created under FOSTA/SESTA, which allows the federal government to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking. Though the law was sold under the banner of anti-trafficking, Calida noted that the 2018 passage instead expanded federal criminal charges for facilitation of commercial sex and has led to many sites which offered harm reduction to sex workers pre-emptively shutting down. “While advertising websites such as RentBoy have faced similar charges, this is the first use of FOSTA’s new expansion of federal policing in a moment when the latitude and effectiveness of police is being directly questioned,” Calida said. Lorelei Lee, an adult performer and collective member of Hacking//Hustling, a group of sex workers formed in response to FOSTA, also joined in SWOP’s press release. “When we are re-envisioning public safety, this is a perfect example of why we can’t exempt human trafficking,” Lee said. “Instead of resources going to community outreach or victim support, you have six agencies spending time and resources reading ads and looking for the word ‘blowjob.’” In Martono’s case, federal authorities charged the online entrepreneur on one count of promotion of prostitution and reckless disregard of sex trafficking, one count of interstate racketeering conspiracy (facilitating prostitution), nine counts of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering (facilitating prostitution) and 17 counts of money laundering.  According to the indictment, Martono allegedly netted more than $21 million off the sites, which he allegedly registered just one day after authorities shut down Backpage.com. Authorities said that CityXGuide ads had to be purchased with cryptocurrency Bitcoin or gift cards from establishments such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, Lowe’s, Amazon and Sephora. Martono used third-party gift card resellers to shroud the money transfers, the indictment said. Martono allegedly took steps to conceal his online activity by routing website traffic through an IP address in Europe, using a VPN to mask his IP address while conducting CardCash transactions, and funneling his proceeds through a network of business and personal bank accounts.  CityXGuide, which served clients across the globe, included a list of 14 “Favorite Cities,” including Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Boston. Authorities said they identified numerous minor victims in CityXGuide advertisements. Martono was arrested last Wednesday and faces up to 25 years in federal prison.  Lawrence Walters, an industry attorney who represents Woodhull Freedom Foundation in its challenge over the constitutionality of FOSTA, said that the CityXGuide case “is another salvo in the government’s ongoing attempt to sanitize the Internet of sex worker ads.” “Here, the DOJ has indicted the defendant for a FOSTA violation at the same time the constitutionality of the law is being tested in federal court in the Woodhull case,” Walters told AVN. “We believe the law is patently unconstitutional and hope the court will put a stop to its enforcement.” The Woodhull Freedom Foundation — along with Human Rights Watch, Alex Andrews, the Internet Archive and Eric Koszyk — is seeking to block enforcement of FOSTA. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently reinstated the case after it was tossed by a lower court. The lawsuit argues that FOSTA expansively criminalizes online speech related to sex work and removes important protections for online intermediaries in violation of their First Amendment rights. 

written by: Rhett Pardon

source: CityXGuide.com Bust Spurs Sex Workers to Advocate for Change | AVN