For more than a decade, the site commonly referred to as RedBook served as a vast catalog of carnal services, a mashup of Craigslist, Yelp, and Usenet where sex workers and hundreds of thousands of their customers could connect, converse, and make arrangements for commercial sex.
RedBook tapped into the persistent, age-old, bottomless appetite for prostitution and made it safer and more civilized. The site was efficient, well stocked, and probably too successful for its own good. Omuro also added a key functionality—he made it possible for sex workers to advertise their services. RedBook may have been full of racy talk and the promise of erotic asations, but the site itself was anything but sexy. Its ugly, bare-bones de was straight out of the early s.
It resembled a web you might use to find a new job or a secondhand bike. If you were careful to stay away from the sections where photos automatically displayed, you could easily browse potential sex partners at work and your coworkers would never suspect a thing.
RedBook was made up of three main elements. Then there were dozens of message boards.
Bruce Boston, a data scientist who works for one of Silicon Valley's major tech companies, initially came to the site to find out which strip clubs had the best dancers. He ended up sticking around for four years to what he describes as the intelligent, provocative, and honest conversations on the site's forums. But the most valuable part of the site was its reviews section.
As part of their reviews, users listed the services they received, as well as details about the provider's physical attributes.
Looking for a well-reviewed Latina under 30 who provides full-body sensual massage in Oakland? Just filter to narrow down your search. Then, on June 25,visitors to RedBook got a rude shock. Instead of a directory of links to sexyforums, and reviews, they saw a Craigslist Pinole sex alert from the Department of Justice, FBI, and IRS stating that RedBook's domain had been seized.
Federal agents arrested Omuro, 54, along with Annmarie Lanoce, a year-old bespectacled mother from Rocklin, California, a suburb of Sacramento. Lanoce worked for Omuro, helping to moderate RedBook and manage its operations. Their homes were raided and their computer equipment confiscated. In July, Omuro was charged with using the Internet to facilitate prostitution and 24 counts of money laundering. Lanoce was charged with using the Internet to facilitate prostitution.
Released on bond, they were prohibited from going online or associating with former users of the site. The site brought in revenue from fees paid by RedBook users for access to the site's enhanced features.
It's unclear why the authorities targeted RedBook and not the array of other sites where sex is openly bought and sold. The US attorney's office declined to offer any comment, but its indictment speaks for itself.
Both Omuro and Lanoce initially pleaded not guilty to all charges, but in November Lanoce changed her plea in the hope that it might allow her to avoid a felony sentence in exchange for good behavior. Omuro's guilty plea marked the first-ever federal conviction of a website operator for the crime of facilitating prostitution.
Both Omuro and Lanoce are due in court in March for sentencing. Photographer Victor Cobo has been shooting images of sex workers in San Francisco's Tenderloin district for more than 15 years. San Francisco's gritty Tenderloin district is bordered by touristy Union Square on one side and tony Nob Hill on another.
In Twitter installed its lavish new headquarters in an old art deco building on Market Street, kicking off a surge of corporate moves to the area by the likes of Uber, Spotify, Yammer, and Square. In turn, hundreds of young tech workers have recently relocated to the Tenderloin and are rapidly changing the economics of a neighborhood that has managed to resist gentrification for decades.
That resistance is on full display one afternoon this fall when I take a short walk around the neighborhood. I count five women standing on various corners, some actively waving at cars, others more carefully making low-key eye contact with male drivers as they cruise by. One woman is particularly aggressive. She wears a black tank top with spaghetti straps, mommish jeans, and a San Francisco Giants sweatshirt tied around her waist. You might mistake her for a lady on her way out to buy groceries, except she's wearing cartoonishly thick lipstick and heavy eye makeup, especially striking in the middle of the day.
I stand about 10 feet from her, near a bus stop.
A guy on a Harley stops at a red light, and the woman lewdly thrusts her hips in his direction. The biker rides on, and a police truck pulls up alongside us.
The cop in the passenger seat calls her over. She walks toward the car and leans her head into his open window.
The officer says something quietly to her, and she walks back to her post. A beat later, the cops are gone, and she continues to hail passersby—just a little more subtly now.
The Geary bus pulls up, lets out a dozen passengers, and picks up a few new ones. When I don't get on the bus, the woman knows I'm not there waiting for a ride downtown. She looks over to me. I get flustered and begin to stammer, then manage to blurt out that I'd just come from a meeting and that I'm trying to figure out what to do next. I tell her no, I'm good.
I step off the curb and quickly cross illegally in the middle of the street.
Then I turn back. Omuro started Redbook so that Bay Area mongers would have a home on the web. It succeeded, ultimately attracting so many users that the site became a full-fledged business, with massive profits.
But when RedBook was shut down, the people who were hit the hardest weren't the buyers, but the sellers—sex workers like Cathy for whom the site had made the world's oldest profession ificantly less risky. One of the ways the site reduced danger for workers was by making it easier for them to weed out bad dates, from poor tippers to full-on abusive creeps.
Providers could choose to meet only customers who were well known and well liked on RedBook's forums, and some workers even required references from other escorts on Craigslist Pinole sex site before taking on a new client. RedBook may be gone, but the migration of the sex trade from the streets to the Internet is only accelerating. Some sex workers use social media to advertise search Twitter for some combination of the city you're in, and escort, incall, or whatever kink you're into. Others have their own websites, often built using specialized services like Escort De—a kind of WordPress for people in the sex industry.
But the most common way to connect with clients online is through sites similar to RedBook that have yet to be shut down by the authorities. Scott Cunningham, a Baylor University economics professor who studies prostitution and black markets on the web, says that while exact figures are unknown—no national census has been conducted—he has no doubt that the vast majority of today's paid sex arrangements originate through the Internet.
If sex workers simply want to buy an ad, they can still use Cityvibe, Lovings, Back, and Eros Guide. RedBook was different, in that its vast network of message boards made it possible for workers to not only advertise but ask questions of one another, find support, and even make friends. Siouxsie's career in sex work is as diverse as it gets. In addition to seeing a few clients each week for escort and domination services, she writes a sex column for SF Weeklyteaches sex classes for couples looking to add spice to their love lives one of her recent courses was called Monogamaybemodels for fetish websites, and stars in adult films.
She was recently nominated for an AVN—the Oscars of porn. She also hosts and produces two podcasts.
The Whorecast focuses on the people and politics of sex work—a recent episode featured an interview with a marine who says his side gig as a porn performer cost him his pension. Her other podcast is about Game of Thrones from the perspective of two sex workers.
But escorting remains a primary source of Siouxsie's income. And since RedBook was shut down, her business has taken a substantial hit.
Guys can still get Siouxsie's contact information through her personal website, but all the positive comments that clients wrote about her over the years vanished from the web the moment RedBook was pulled offline. By closing down RedBook, law enforcement made it tough for specialty escorts like Siouxsie to set favorable rates for their services.
That can't happen now. Then there's the reality that so much of the sex workers' personal information is now in the hands of the authorities. It goes into a database somewhere.
In the wake of RedBook's shutdown, Kayyali set up a workshop, held in an unpublicized location in San Francisco, to teach sex workers how to anonymize their online communications and transactions. She explained to about 20 women the basics of the Tor browser and offered tips for improving password security. The attendees' questions were smart and informed, and she was impressed by the amount of thoughtfulness in the room.
Then again, the people who are most likely to be targeted by police are those with the least amount of experience with technology. So at her training session she also talked about the importance of basic security measures like using passcodes and text message encryption.
At least in the short term. Cunningham, the Baylor economist, points to a study he coauthored inwhich suggests that the Internet may have decreased the of sex workers age 25 to 40 who work on the street.
One woman who relied on RedBook's free ad listings calls herself Rachel, a year-old sex worker who's been operating in the streets and residential hotels of San Francisco's Tenderloin district for the better part of 20 years. She's a longtime crack addict and often homeless, but today she's neat, clean, and fashionably dressed in a slouchy sweater, leggings, and new cowboy boots.
If you walked by her on the street, you'd never guess what she did for money. She breaks away to talk to three guys across the street. After a minute, she pockets a small baggie from one of the men, hugs him, and runs back to me. She grabs my hand again and pulls me toward the front step of the America Hotel, one of the dozens of single-room-occupancy hotels that house the Tenderloin's poor. We walk past a gate and up a filthy flight of carpeted steps to meet a man sitting behind a thick plastic wall with a head-sized hole cut out toward the bottom.
He nods at Rachel and glares at me. The clerk is in his early fifties, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with the YouTube logo embroidered across the front. Rachel and I climb another two flights of stairs and arrive at her room. There isn't enough stuff inside for it to qualify as a mess.
But it does not feel clean. There are two duffel bags in the corner near the window. ZIP: 94564