On Wednesday, June 25th, the long-running San Francisco area sex worker advertising/community website MyRedbook was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Two employees were arrested and the site, which featured listings and discussions forums for sex workers; a review section, and a bad date list, was shut down. The main image on the site was replaced by the above message from the F.B.I and Internal Revenue Service.
CNN is reporting that the raid was part of “Operation Cross Country,” a national anti-trafficking effort that the F.B.I claims recovered 168 children last week and led to the arrest of 281 “pimps”. CNN cites an anonymous law enforcement source saying that some of the children rescued in the sweep were identified through My Redbook.
However, the F.B.I’s indictment of My Redbook cites no trafficking charges. Both suspects are charged with one count of interstate travel in the aid of a racketeering enterprise, and one is charged with 24 counts of money laundering. The first suspect (with the additional charges) entered a not guilty plea, while the other did not enter a plea. Both have been ordered to appear before a judge on July 10th.
A statement from the F.B.I describes the grounds for its actions:
“According to information available on the publically accessible website as of the date of its seizure by the FBI, myredbook.com purported to provide “Escort, Massage, and Strip Club Reviews.” Instead, however, the website hosted advertisements for prostitutes, complete with explicit photos, lewd physical descriptions, menus of sexual services, hourly and nightly rates, and customer reviews of the prostitutes’ services.”
The F.B.I’s statement goes on to say: “The Indictment seeks the forfeiture of more than $5 million in property and money derived from the facilitation of prostitution, as well as the Internet domain names myredbook.com and sfredbook.com.”
As my Redbook was a free service for sex workers, allowing workers to advertise services in a safe environment and to screen potential clients, it is the most marginalised sex workers who are likely feeling the biggest impact.