Media coverage of the federal raid on male-escort advertising site Rentboy.com has largely viewed it through the lens of earlier attacks on the LGBT community – raids on Gay bars and bathouses, and Stonewall Inn.
While these parallels are striking, a recent Reason.com article by Elizabeth Nolan-Brown draws yet another connection: how the rentboy.com bust fits in with the broader issue of police overuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture, especially around prostitution-related offenses.
Thanks to one of America’s favorite news-comedians John Oliver’s recent segment, the issue of Civil Asset forfeiture received major attention. You should watch the full video – because it’s hilarious – but perhaps the most frightening is Oliver’s observation that “Since 9/11, under just one program, the Police have taken over 2.5 Billion dollars in the course of 61,998 seizures of cash alone from people who were not charged with a crime.”
Elizabeth Nolan-Brown notes that despite growing outrage at civil asset forfeiture, especially in the context of the “war on drugs,” this has been an increasingly popular move in the “war on prostitution.” “At least 41 states* and the District of Columbia,” Nolan-Brown notes, “now allow some form asset forfeiture for commercial-sex offenses, up from 32 in 2012.”
Nolan also quotes the American Civil Liberties Union about the ills of civil asset forfeiture laws:
Forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. But today, aided by deeply flawed federal and state laws, many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting…legally regaining such property is notoriously difficult and expensive, with costs sometimes exceeding the value of the property.
Civil asset forfeiture is a major issue in sex workers rights and a growing issue, one that Nolan-Brown does an outstanding job illuminating.
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