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Craigslist Bans Sex Ads...But Not Demand For Them

Lisa Rau |
September 6, 2010 | 10:50 p.m. PDT


Craigslist voluntarily censored its “adult services” category in response to pressure from 17 state attorneys general, despite the site’s protection by the Communications Decency Act. (Illustration by Lisa Rau)
Craigslist voluntarily censored its “adult services” category in response to pressure from 17 state attorneys general, despite the site’s protection by the Communications Decency Act. (Illustration by Lisa Rau)

Craigslist used the c-word.

Silently, swiftly and oh-so-discreetly, it definitely used the c-word.


Without any official warning, Craigslist kicked off Labor Day Weekend 2010 by removing its “adult services” category. The move came after attorneys general from 17 states threatened legal action for what they claim to be “rampant” advertisements for prostitution and child sex trafficking. 

The “adult services” link has been replaced with a small, non-clickable banner that simply reads: “Censored.” Craigslist did not accompany the move with any kind of public statement, and some suspect the site is cooking up a plan to draw public support for freedom of speech.

Craigslist found itself in similar hot water last year when politicians and attorneys accused the site of “operating an online brothel,” according to CNET.

But Craig’s a nice guy, definitely doesn’t support illegal sex trafficking and has taken several measures to keep site users safe:

What more can society ask from a privately-owned nonprofit that, by law, doesn’t even need to take these measures? The federal Communications Decency Act protects websites from illegal content posted by third parties. It’s a freedom of speech thing. But that’s not even the real battle underground. 

The Real Problem

 censored. (Screenshot from losangeles.craigslist.com)
censored. (Screenshot from losangeles.craigslist.com)
The organizations, politicians and attorneys lambasting Craigslist have misdirected the public’s attention from the true problem:

The demand for child sex.

It doesn’t matter if it’s online, in the basement of a casino, or out of the back of a truck. The middleman does not dictate the supply and demand that keeps this sick industry alive. And flourishing.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates 800,000 children are part of the underground sex industry.

Did you just gasp? Because you should have. 

It’s easy to scapegoat a website and call for a technology ban, because it sounds like something is actually being done to solve the problem. Sorry to break it to you, oh-so-righteous politicians and lawyers, but it doesn’t change the fact that perverts continue to drive the child sex market forward. 

The snarky and irreverent blog Gawker points out that the Internet is chock-full of popular sites that advertise adult services, most of which don’t regulate their forums for potential illegal sex trades that may exploit minors.

So let’s give craigslist a break, stop this nonsense about Internet censorship, and ask the underlying questions:

Who are these pimps and “johns”? Buried near the bottom of a sub-page on Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s anti-child-sex-trade website, we learn that “most ‘johns’ are quite ordinary: 70-90% are married, and most are employed with no criminal record.” Why isn't this sentence smeared across the top of their homepage? 

Where are the groups hell-bent on castrating these abusive scumbags? We're rich with nonprofit advocacy groups devoted to helping victims, but I have yet to see headlines about some angry-as-hell activists go PETA on those depraved pedophiles.

Where are the stats on sex industry consumers? The Not For Sale campaign website has a huge banner next to a large photo of an exploited-looking girl that reads: “27 million people are enslaved today.” This is a common heartstring-pulling presentation. But why is it rare to see a nonprofit website homepage that plasters these “ordinary men” next to a jaw-dropping statistic about their favorite hobby?

We must have resources to help these young girls, true. And website owners are right to set their own safety standards, yes. But we must have an equal, if not greater, effort to target the root cause of any widespread injustice.

Who’s Talking?

Perhaps saddest of all is that hardly anyone on the Web is writing about the demand for sex trafficking as the root of the problem.

One new blogger recently grazed the Internet soapbox with these simple observations:

"Where was the outrage over those who place the ads? Where was the outrage over men who answer those ads? … Craigslist is not breaking the law. The people pimping these girls are breaking the law. The people answering these ads are breaking the law."

So if we shouldn’t focus on craigslist, or even the victims as the primary mode of action, what should be done?

Since Craigslist’s on the hot seat, maybe the site can use its public leverage to turn heads in the right direction. Here are some suggestions for the website:

  1. Create a “pimps, johns and creeps” category that publicizes information about anyone who's been blacklisted from the website for posting an illegal sex ad involving a minor. Then we’ll embarrass the crap out of them on “Best of Craigslist.” Scumbags.
  2. Respond to every complaint from anti-child trafficking advocacy groups by asking them to beef up their efforts toward witch-hunting pimps and johns.
  3. Respond to politicians’ complaints by asking why the U.S. government spends 300 times more money toward anti-drug trafficking than it spends toward anti-human trafficking. Tell them their math is wrong.

Ultimately, the focus must be primarily on the perpetrators of these crimes. Lambasting the middlemen and displaying victim’s personal stories don’t stop the sex trade industry. 

If anything, it gives the scumbags more ideas.

Individual Action

If you suspect sex trafficking or exploitation of minors, or if you are aware of someone who has engaged with this industry, you may report these crimes by visiting MissingKids.com or use location-specific resources available on Craigslist.

Reach columnist Lisa Rau here.

Follow her on Twitter: @LisaRau



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