After two years of criticism against the online classified ad site Craigslist because people post ads for prostitution there, the site is now being accused of hosting ads for child prostitution as well.
"Last month, two girls trafficked for sex through the website Craigslist wrote an open letter to its founder, Craig Newmark, pleading with him to get rid of the adult services section, where sex ads are placed," wrote Malika Saada Saar, founder and executive director of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, in CNN Opinion last week. The piece was purportedly written due to insufficient response from the Craigslist organization to the July letter.
The organization has now placed ads in newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post, repeating the allegations, as well as placing the information on its website.
The letter, and the ad, claim to be from two girls, "A.K." and "M.C.," who report what they say is their history of having been sold on Craigslist.
What the organization wants is for Craigslist to shut down its Adult Services section, which Craigslist set up in November, 2008, in response to criticism by 40 state Attorneys General of its Erotic Services section. The Adult Services section requires a credit card verification, as well as a $10 charge. Craigslist is reportedly earning as much as $36 million per year from these charges.
The Craigslist organization, however, contends that it has been unfairly targeted. First, it has pointed out that it is not the only site where such ads are placed. "Many prominent companies, including AT&T, Microsoft, and Village Voice Media, not to mention major newspapers and other upstanding South Carolina businesses feature more "adult services" ads than does craigslist, some of a very graphic nature," Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said in a May, 2009, blog posting when the organization was under a similar attack by South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster. "Are you really prepared to condemn the executives of each of the mainstream companies linked above, and all the others that feature such ads, as criminals?"
Second, shutting down the Adult Services section would simply mean that people would post similar ads in other Craigslist sections where they might not be as easily found, or other sites, Buckmaster wrote in a rebuttal to Malika Saada Saar's piece last week. "Fortunately, most concerned parties seem to realize that declassifying adult services ads back into Craigslist personals, services, and other categories, and offsite to venues that have no interest in combating trafficking and exploitation or in assisting law enforcement, would simply undo all the progress we have made, undermine our primary mission of evolving Craigslist community sites according to user feedback, set back the efforts of our partners in law enforcement and exacerbate the very societal epidemic we all seek to end."
Third, the Craigslist organization has pointed out a number of steps it has taken to help reduce the use of its site for prostitution, including:
o Educating and encouraging users to report trafficking and exploitation
o Prominently featuring anti-trafficking and exploitation resources
o Creating specialized search interfaces for law enforcement
o Providing support for law enforcement anti-crime sweeps and stings
o Actively participating in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's cyber-tipline program
o Leading all awareness efforts for the National Trafficking Hotline
o Meeting regularly with experts at nonprofits and in law enforcement
o Manually reviewing every adult service ad before posting
o Requiring phone verification for every adult service ad
o Implementing the PICS content labeling system.
In response to the AK/MC letter and ads, Buckmaster posted on Monday asking for more details. "Would you or the advocacy groups who placed the ads please let us know where the police reports were filed?" he wrote in a blog entry. "We have been unable thus far to identify police reports matching the crimes you describe. If craigslist was misused, we want to learn more so we can improve our preventative measures. If anyone committing such crimes has not yet been apprehended and prosecuted, we want to do everything in our power to assist the police in making that happen."
The posting went on to say that the events described in the letter happened before the current process of manual screening was implemented.