Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Craigslist's Adult Services Ads

For those of you who didn't spend the weekend trying to find prostitutes on Craigslist, it may come as a surprise that Craigslist has officially shut down the "Adult Services" section of the website after pressure from 17 state attorneys general. The attorneys general wrote an open letter to Craigslist highlighting some of the transactions "gone wrong" and saying that Craigslist is basically facilitating the victimization of women and children by not doing a better job policing these ads (of course this is after they lost in court since Craigslist is very much within its legal rights). People have been losing their shit about sex and prostitution since forever so I don't find the behavior of the state attorneys general too shocking, but it is interesting that some people believe that shutting down the "Adult Services" section will actually hurt women/children rather then help them like some assume.

Woman in Chains, originally uploaded by just.Luc. Translation: "...they said I'd be a waitress in a bar..."

There are a few reasons for this:

1. Craigslist's "Adult Services" gave police a leg up in monitoring illegal activity. Anyone who thinks this censorship will stop people from still selling sex on Craigslist is either far too idealistic or a complete idiot. Prostitution isn't going anywhere folks. It's time that people just accept that and move on.

2. By having a special section for these activities, Craigslist was able to manually monitor ads. Unlike the rest of the site, Adult Services ads required human approval. While the argument can be made that Craigslist did a pretty shoddy job, the site claims to have denied more than 700,000 ads "in the year following implementation of manual screening."

3. Just plain visibility. As Danah Boyd says, "Visibility serves many important purposes in advocacy. Not only does it motivate people to act, but it also shines a spotlight on every person involved in the issue at hand. In the case of nonconsensual prostitution and human trafficking, this means that those who are engaged in these activities aren’t so deeply underground as to be invisible. They’re right there. And while they feel protected by the theoretical power of anonymity and the belief that no one can physically approach and arrest them, they’re leaving traces of all sorts that make them far easier to find than most underground criminals."

From How Censoring Craigslist Helps Pimps, Child Traffickers, and Other Abusive Scumbags:
There’s a lot more political gain to be had demonizing profitable companies than demanding more money be spent (and thus, more taxes be raised) supporting the work that law enforcement does. Taking something that is visible and making it invisible makes a politician look good, even if it does absolutely nothing to help the victims who are harmed. It creates the illusion of safety, while signaling to pimps, traffickers, and other scumbags that their businesses are perfectly safe as long as they stay invisible. Sure, many of these scumbags have an incentive to be as visible as possible to reach as many possible clients as possible, and so they will move on and invade a new service where they can reach clients. And they’ll make that ISP’s life hell by putting them in the spotlight. And maybe they’ll choose an offshore one that American law enforcement can do nothing about. Censorship online is nothing more than whack-a-mole, pushing the issue elsewhere or more underground.

Censoring Craigslist will do absolutely nothing to help those being victimized, but it will do a lot to help those profiting off of victimization. Censoring Craigslist will also create new jobs for pimps and other corrupt intermediaries, since it’ll temporarily make it a whole lot harder for individual scumbags to find clients. This will be particularly devastating for the low-end prostitutes who were using Craigslist to escape violent pimps. Keep in mind that occasionally getting beaten up by a scary john is often a whole lot more desirable for many than the regular physical, psychological, and economic abuse they receive from their pimps. So while it’ll make it temporarily harder for clients to get access to abusive services, nothing good will come out of it in the long run.

If you want to end human trafficking, if you want to combat nonconsensual prostitution, if you care about the victims of the sex-power industry, don’t cheer Craigslist’s censorship. This did nothing to combat the cycle of abuse. What we desperately need are more resources for law enforcement to leverage the visibility of the Internet to go after the scumbags who abuse. What we desperately need are for sites like Craigslist to be encouraged to work with law enforcement and help create channels to actually help victims. What we need are innovative citizens who leverage new opportunities to devise new ways of countering abusive industries. We need to take this moment of visibility and embrace it, leverage it to create change, leverage it to help those who are victimized and lack the infrastructure to get help. What you see online should haunt you. But it should drive you to address the core problem by finding and helping victims, not looking for new ways to blindfold yourself. Please, I beg you, don’t close your eyes. We need you.
Without getting into too much detail, I can tell you that I know first hand that everything is not on the up-and-up on Craigslist, but any transaction on the site is potentially unsafe or harmful. The reality is prostitution will be around as long as there is a demand for it. Making these activities invisible won't change that.


  1. I think if a grown woman want to offer sex for money, and a grown man agrees to pay her, they should be allowed.

    Why is it a crime to exchange money for an act that is legal if there's no charge?
    I think it's a hold over from our puritanical past.
    Seriously, consentual sex between adults should never be a crime.

  2. I agree. Unfortunately not all sex workers do go into sex work willingly, but if they do then I don't understand why it isn't legal. The reality is most sex workers say they would not continue working in the sex industry if they could make equal wages doing something else though.


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