FBI Hunts Down Escort Service

online prostitution

The website SupermatchEscort and its operators have been the subject of FBI scrutiny. Six company representatives have been charged with sex trafficking in the USA, Canada and Australia. The website and numerous Internet domains associated with the company were blocked.

For a year now it has been expected that due to FOSTA/SESTA legislation in the USA, websites that could be used in any way to promote prostitution would run into severe difficulties. The result was massive legal uncertainty throughout the web industry. Despite or because of extensive self-censorship measures, especially by social media companies, mainstream offerings and sex websites have remained largely unaffected by the prosecutors. The example of the dating and personals service Backpage being raided and Craigslist’s rapid closure of its dating category shows, however, that even offers that are not explicitly prostitution-related can get into the line of fire.

Now, however, the FBI took action in a major blow against a network of escort websites. The operators are accused of having trafficked women for prostitution, a crime that any service provider and operator of prostitution services in the USA can be guilty of as a result of the complete prohibition of prostitution.

Action by the authorities so far directed against prostitution
While the operators concerned are now likely to face prison sentences, industry lawyer Lawrence Walters believes that there is some cause for relief, as the feared large-scale crackdown on all sex workers and adult services has so far failed to materialize, at least from the government side. »The Department of Justice appears committed to pursuing those who use websites for purposes of engaging in prostitution. Notably, this prosecution does not rely on FOSTA/SESTA as a basis for the indictment.«

The cause for concern is not so much the arrest of the operators, but the preventive closure and seizure of the websites by the authorities. It sends a worrisome message from the point of view of the right to freedom of expression. »The mass seizure of domain names prior to a finding of guilt generates some issues from a First Amendment standpoint. However, this practice has become more common and is likely to continue unless the courts intervene. If the government seized a newspaper’s printing press based on alleged illegal ads in the newspaper, the free speech concern would be more obvious.«

In its investigation of the escort service, which was mainly focused on Asian escorts, the FBI relied on cooperation with local authorities in around 12 cities. Six people have now been indicted, including a non-U.S.-resident Chinese citizen named Weixuan Zhou, known in the U.S. as Marco Zhou.

The ban on prostitution will be enforced more severely online, looming consequences for customers?
The network used to function like a classic escort agency whose business model is perfectly legal in many countries around the world. The agency took orders from clients and arranged dates with the respective escorts, who were often employed in illegal brothels.

The FBI’s action could still entail some unpleasant ramifications for many clients of the escort service as the data of more than 30,000 clients were also seized during the seizure.



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