July 26, 2009

People Still Selling Sex On Craigslist

Millions of people peruse Craigslist everyday for everything from clothes to cars, but recently it has gotten a lot of attention for prostitutes using it to sell their services as well.

Despite promises to eradicate all sexual services being advertised on the site, officials insist that Craigslist is still unable to rid itself of advertisements placed by prostitutes.

Craigslist, often referred to as an online garage sale, is also a centralized networking community for people to find jobs, housing, items for sale, and services, etc.

"It makes me wonder, do they really think I'm sort of stupid, some bobble-head who will think they changed it?" said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who sued the San Francisco-based company earlier this year, accusing it of being the largest source of prostitution. "They seem to insist on being cute and playing games (and) it's getting old."

Sheriff Dart shows no indication that he has any intention of letting up on the issue. He has engaged in a relentless battle with the company along with an attorney general who believes that he could intensify the pressure on the company to really put an end to online prostitution.

They admit that when Craigslist re-categorized the section from "erotic services" to "adult services", it eliminated the majority of the graphic images, but there is no denying that Craigslist remains a popular way to advertise sex. 

Now that the site is under so much scrutiny, the advertisements have become creatively covert. Many ads offer vague services by women in suggestive poses with statements reading "Just imagine what we could do" or "Your wife or girlfriend won't do this for you, but we will". They also list prices that depend on time required for the service.

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said in an email that he considered the lawsuit to be nothing more than a publicity stunt.

"The citizens of Cook County would arguably be better served if their sheriff spent his time addressing actual crime, rather than using the courts to generate personal publicity," he wrote.

With the enormous amount of criticism and pressure to do something - especially after a man from Boston was accused of killing a woman who had placed an ad on the site -  Craigslist announced its changes in May.

Craigslist promised not only to get rid of the "erotic services" category, but also to pre-screen all submissions to the new section and even charge a fee.

The Craigslist attorney suggested to Dart's attorney that the lawsuit be dropped, saying that it would be unnecessary with the changes.

However, questions arose about the new category and how the company would manage its content. According to the attorney general, similar promises made to oversee erotic ads were not kept in the past.

"They are so thinly disguised, the real question is how they are permitted to be there if, in fact, the site is doing the screening and policing that they said they will do," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Dart's attorney Dan Gallagher said that it is impossible to read certain ads and not notice that they are solicitations for prostitution. He noted a particular ad by a woman offering escort services that last as little as 15 minutes.

"They (Craigslist) go to great lengths to say this is just a site so that people can meet one another to fulfill their romantic aspirations," he said. "I don't think having an escort for 15 minutes is a fulfillment of romantic aspirations."

On top of that, Gallagher says the ads are becoming increasingly obvious in their intent than they were under the category of "erotic services".

According to him, even code phrases for payments such as "150 roses" or "200 diamonds" that detectives once saw are being replaced with the actual price.

Requests for information regarding the Craigslist monitors, such as how many there are, their qualifications and what type of ads they refuse to post, have yet to be given to officials.

"It's painfully obvious they're just blowing me off, humoring me,' said Dart.

Blumenthal said that Craigslist has responded to his requests, but that he is still awaiting answers to many of the same questions asked by Dart.

"At the very least what we want to know what is the list of prohibited terms, what are their criteria and procedures," he said. "If they need it, we will give them a list of terms."

An alliance of 40 attorneys general deliberating and would be able to announce its next move by next week, according to Blumenthal.

The sheriff and his detectives are conducting sting operations and making arrests.


On the Net: