Escort Web Sites
I'd like to have a lawyers word of the legality of running my escort web site. I've noticed a lot of them in my area have been going down lately, and I'm concerned it might be a legal issue. I'm following the practices that I see all of the other sites using. I have my disclaimers posted. I am concerned if there is a need for Title 18 records? I only post ad submissions that I get, I don't post my own adult content. I would really appreciate any help.
2 Answers from Attorneys
Re: Escort Web Sites
I can certainly understand why sites of this kind go down due to legal difficulties. Despite the formal legal burdens, there is a high probability that a police "sting" operation that uncovered one of your hostesses offering more than "escort" services would spill over into a criminal investigation of your site, if not an indictment. There would be considerable receptivity to the argument that you are turning a blind eye to, and are facilitating, illegal activities. You might remember the controversy over certain ads placed by mercenaries or "hit men" in the Soldier of Fortune magazine several years ago; the issue is essentially the same for you, putting aside the difference in media.
Just a guess, but I doubt that you are making enough money with your site to pay the legal fees that would arise if the government chases you in earnest.
Re: Escort Web Sites
I have to disagree with Mr. Graves's answer. I think the ads on your web site are likely analogous to print ads for escorts contained in such print magazines and newspapers as "Los Angeles Magazine" and "The Village Voice." To the best of my knowledge, there have been no legal actions against these publications despite running such ads for years.
(One difference is that your site will be viewable from other states and other countries, where the applicable laws may be very different. Of course, regional magazines like those I have mentioned can travel beyond their local areas, so this difference may not be particularly important.)
The key is that you must reject any ad that offers illegal services. (The ads in "Soldier of Fortune" which Mr. Graves cites were actually offering to commit crimes for hire, which more than justified the kinds of prosecutions that took place.) You can be prosecuted if you help someone offer sex for money, but if all they are advertising is companionship and it turns out that they are actually willing to provide more, well, that is not criminal activity on your part.
There are strong arguments to be made that a prosecution for such ads would violate the First Amendment, although First Amendment protections for commercial speech are not quite as strong as those for other types of speech.
I note that neither Mr. Graves nor I are Florida attornyes, so there may be issues of Florida law which we don't recognize. The First Amendment trumps any contrary state laws, but there might be other issues relating to the legal definitions of pandering and pimping in your state.
I should add that I am not condoning the type of web site you are running. I believe strongly in Free Speech, however, including the kind of speech you are facilitating.
Finally, I note that prosecutors in Florida seem more likely than those in most other states to try to push the limits of the law in order to go after someone in your position. Even if you ultimately prevail, they can make life miserable for you and you might want to keep that risk in mind.