Craigslist's Adult Services section under fire
August 31, 2010 6:21 PM
Attorneys General from 17 states collaborated to send an open letter to Craigslist on August 25 demanding that the website discontinue its Adult Services section.
The letter, sent to the San Francisco based site's CEO Jim Buckmaster and founder Craig Newmark, claimed that the classified advertisement website was being used as a platform for human and child trafficking.
"In our view, the company should take immediate action to end the misery for the women and children who may be exploited and victimized by these ads," the letter said. "Because Craigslist cannot, or will not, adequately screen these ads, it should stop accepting them altogether and shut down the Adult Services section."
This is not the first instance of controversy surrounding the Adult Services section. In May of 2009, amidst several legal cases, Craigslist announced that "Erotic Services" would be renamed "Adult Services" and that the ads would undergo manual screenings to prevent further abuses.
Buckmaster wrote in the Craigslist blog that since last year the manual screenings have resulted in the rejection of 700,000 ads. "Before being posted, each individual ad is reviewed by an attorney licensed to practice law in the U.S., and trained to enforce Craigslist's posting guidelines," Buckmaster said. "Which are stricter than those typically used by yellow pages, newspapers, or any other company that we are aware of."
The manual screenings, the Attorney Generals believe, is simply not enough.
Their letter goes on to cite a report conducted by CNN correspondent Amber Lyon. Lyon posted a faux prostitution ad last May on the Washington DC Craigslist in the Adult Services section stressing words such as young, sweet and innocent.
Lyon posted her ad without any obstruction from Craigslist's manual screenings and within a time frame of three hours received 15 calls seeking her services.
"Yes, the perpetrators may eventually be apprehended and brought to justice, but the victim, assuming she survives, will carry the scars for life," the letter said. "No amount of after-the fact documentation will erase that enduring harm."
Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco based nonprofit committed to defending free speech, believes that Craigslist has every legal right to continue Adult Services. "The host cannot be held legally responsible for how people use it," Jeschke said.
Electronic Frontier Foundation cites Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which states, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."
"You hold the speaker liable not the soapbox," Jeschke said. Jeschke trusts that if the law were to be changed, services such as Craigslist would not be able to exist.
Jeschke felt it was important to note that human and child trafficking is by no means legal, but placing blame on Craigslist will accomplish little in the fight against human trafficking. Police departments across the country actually utilize Craigslist as a tool to uncover crime, Jeschke said.
"Cracking down on Craigslist," said Jeschke. "Is not going to keep anyone safer."
Craigslist is readily available with advertisements fitting to college students needs. Free couches, want ads for barista postions, and apartment listings are accessible in only a few clicks. As avid Craiglist users, students at San Francisco State University feel conflicted about the recent controversy.
Courtney Dawson, a women and gender studies major and Craigslist user, was shocked to hear that child trafficking advertisements were being posted to Craigslist.
Dawson, who describes herself as a pro-sex feminist, said she had gone through the ads before but never saw any evidence of a trafficker.
"There has to be a line though," Dawson said. "Child trafficking on Craigslist is ridiculous."
Natalie Purcell, a graduate student at the University of California Santa Cruz studying sexual violence, thinks perhaps there is a larger issue to observe.
"The owners and managers of the service certainly have some responsibility to regulate it and to minimize or eliminate the harm that they've inadvertently facilitated," said Purcell.
"But Craigslist should not serve as a stand-in and scapegoat for the broader problems of sexual exploitation and human trafficking."
Purcell believes that sexual labor is a serious cultural problem that needs crucial evaluation. "We need to evaluate the many social factors that make the sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls thinkable to far too many men," said Purcell.
In Purcell's opinion, no real change can come about until we look to humanity for the solution. "We must not let a debate about the pros and cons a specific technology-- Craigslist," Purcell said. "Replace a conversation about gender, sexual expression, and how both are shaped by power, inequality, and injustice."
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