Yesterday, cops and Department of Homeland Security agents arrested seven staff members of, a long-running male escort website with users across the U.S. and in countries around the world. The site remains online, but a U.S. Attorney told reporters the government is in the process of "seizing" it, its photos have disappeared, and all of its 4,000 active advertisers with sense and access to the news have stopped using it. We spoke to one sex worker—we'll call him Leo—who depends on the site for his living about how it works, and what he plans to do now.

Leo is college-educated and in his mid-20s, with a background in social work. He got involved in the sex industry two years ago, after settling in New Orleans and finding professional opportunities lacking. Before starting, he sought the advice of experienced sex workers, who explained how to screen clients for police and predators, how he should always make sure someone knows where he's going, and other "nuts and bolts." He liked Rentboy because it allowed him to correspond with people before meeting them and get a sense of their temperament before agreeing to meet up. Plus, New Orleans clients paid $200 on average, Leo estimates.

There are emotional risks as well as physical ones, though. As Leo explained, sex work "is mostly emotional labor. You're being a companion for someone, you're listening to them...things I did before kind of in social work, but with sex on top of it, sometimes but not always."

Referring to an interview where Rentboy's Sean Van Sant described escorts as "sexual therapists," a description cited in the criminal complaint against him, Leo said, "I think that [description is] accurate. A lot of these [johns] are people who otherwise have no one to be with this way, no one to share their feelings with."

Recently, the work had been going well. It is preferable to a 9-to-5 job because of the "freedom and flexibility" it provides, Leo said. "Plus it's something I like to do anyway." Then yesterday happened. The arrest of Rentboy's administrators and seizure of its computers and business records sent shockwaves through the male escort world.

"I'm pissed about it. So is basically everyone I know," Leo said. "I think it's depriving people of their livelihood."

Against the backdrop of the human rights group Amnesty International's proposal for the global decriminalization of prostitution and a backlash by celebrity anti-human-trafficking activists, Leo said the latest crackdown isn't unexpected.

"I'm not entirely surprised. It's part of this growing moral panic about sex work going on," he said. "So far it's mostly targeting women, trans women, women of color—it was only a matter of time before it started to affect people who are more privileged."

Notably in the Rentboy case, the complaint and the U.S. Attorney's Office publicity makes no mention of anyone being victimized by the alleged prostitution facilitation. Human trafficking is often a prominent narrative feature of such prosecutions, almost always describing women as the victims. The Harm Reduction Coalition issued a statement today calling the Rentboy charges a "misuse of federal investigative resources and prosecutorial power," and urging other public health and activist groups to condemn them.

The involvement of the Department of Homeland Security in the Rentboy bust "terrifies me," Leo said, and not just because of the potential for legal repercussions.

"It's one thing to be out with your photo on the internet and a fake name and all your contact info, but for it to also be in the hands of Homeland Security, which is a criminalizing agency, along with legal names—it's really scary," he said. "There's the potential of facing legal problems but also who knows what they're going to do with that information."

Leo is attending school for a professional certification and worries that the feds could one day tell a regulatory board about his current line of work. For the moment, his income stream has been cut off, but he anticipates switching to Backpage, the website that has long been targeted by anti-sex-work activists and law enforcement, and that suffered a serious setback in July when an Illinois sheriff convinced MasterCard and Visa to stop processing payments made through it for adult services.

Leo says he dislikes the functional restrictions on Backpage—it limits the photos escorts can posts, and the descriptions they can provide—and says that it is also more heavily monitored by local police, that the clientele is less communicative, and that the pay is lower. But now he wonders if Rentboy's near-total transparency about its function didn't endanger the users whose ad fees financed it.

"They were very blatant," he said of Rentboy's owners. "Maybe they were a little too blatant in a way that put advertisers at risk."

Now that the site is off limits, Leo also anticipates relying more on finding clients on the street, and he is not excited about the prospect.

"[Street work] is riskier," he said. "It's harder to get a rapport, talk to [johns] beforehand, know what they're going to be like, know if they're possibly law enforcement, if they're possibly dangerous."

Still, sex work isn't called the oldest profession for nothing, and Leo doubts the shutdown of one website will make a serious dent in the trade.

"I don't think it's going to deter that many people who are already doing it and relying on it," he said. "People will find new ways, or old ways, the old-old-fashioned ways. There's all kinds of people from all social strata who do this kind of work. For some people who were never on the internet to begin with, it won't change at all."

A group of lawyers and activists is holding an emergency "know your rights" workshop for sex workers in response to the Rentboy bust tonight from 5-7 p.m. at Judson Memorial Church's Assembly Hall at 239 Thompson Street. More information is available here.