When asking people about the website Craigslist, you would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of it. Over 50 million Americans use the classified advertising website. According to its own factsheet, Craigslist is viewed over 20 billion times per month.
But a dark cloud has hung over the website for the past few years. Its erotic services ads brought unwanted attention from authorities and advocacy groups who accused Craigslist of allowing ads for prostitution and sex trafficking. In 2008, after receiving heat from law enforcement in numerous states, Craigslist promised to crack down on prostitution ads.
It implemented stricter guidelines for posting ads, such as raising the fee from $5 to $10, paid with a working credit card, and mandating the advertiser leave a working phone number. The title “erotic services” was replaced by “adult services.” According to Jim Buckmaster, chief executive officer of Craigslist, all ads are manually screened by a licensed U.S. attorney.
His blog states that the attorneys reviewing the ads rejected more than 700,000 ads since they began manually screening. They are required to report anything which makes them suspicious of child trafficking or prostitution. Anyone who wants to view the adult services section must consent to report anything suspicious as well before entering the online service section.
Craigslist boasts that it does more than any other site or newspaper to filter out prostitution of any kind. But is it doing enough?
Two women from Washington placed an ad in the Washington Post saying their pimps repeatedly sold them for paid sex through Craigslist. One was only 11 when she was trafficked and said there were many other girls her man trafficked.
The Rebecca Project, a national advocacy group, published letters it wrote to Newmark from a child prostitute. She says her pimp made her have sex with men and used Craigslist to find customers. The group is calling for the shutdown of the adult services section.
In Maryland, police rescued a 12-year-old girl who was forced to work as a prostitute. The 42-year-old man who held her captive advertised her online as a 24-year-old woman under a fake name. Though it is unclear whether he advertised on Craigslist, she previously advertised on the site under a fake identity. Craigslist would not release copies of her ad because of privacy concerns.
CNN investigated Craigslist adult services ads two years after they promised to implement tougher guidelines. In one day, more than 7,000 ads were counted. Many ads offered barely veiled “services” with a price tag attached, anywhere from $50 to $400 an hour.
Pictures attached to ads implied more than a massage and left room for questioning whether the woman in the ad was an adult or a minor. The investigation reported that ads with words implicating youth, like “young” or “fresh,” collect numerous responses from men who apparently expected to pay them for sex.
When CNN reporter Amber Lyon posted her own fake ad, she received 15 callers seeking sex in 3 hours. 20-year-old “Jessica” told CNN that she posts ads every morning and earns close to $250 from every man who responds to her ad. She works the I-95 in Washington for her pimp, whom she says treats her well.