Monday, November 10, 2008

craigslist Crime: craigslist Prostitution Ads Crackdown a Sham?

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Trench Reynolds: DBKP This Week in Crime
November 3-9, 2008
Volume 35

Trench Reynolds

I'm Trench Reynolds.

I blog about crime.

This is DBKP's This Week in Crime for November 3-9, 2008.

It was announced last week on the official craigslist blog that craigslist will be taking new steps to limiting the amount of ads that are placed in their 'erotic services' section.

For those who may not know craigslist is a wildly popular free classifieds website. One of the sections, known as erotic services, advertises escort services and erotic massages among other 'services'. A majority of the time these ads are nothing less than a front for prostitution, which sometimes often entails human trafficking and child prostitution.

Up until recently craigslist used the defense that their users are supposed to flag any ads that offer illegal services. As I have stated in the past, this is akin to letting the inmates run the asylum. People who use craigslist to sell a couch for example are not going to go into the erotic services section to flag illegal ads. Conversely people who use the erotic services section aren't going to flag any of the ads because that is what they're looking for.

A few months ago craigslist made it so that anyone wanting to post an ad in the erotic services section needed to have a working phone. They claim it cut down on the number of erotic service ads by 80%. Yet by my estimations it didn't cut down on the amount of craigslist prostitution arrests. It also gave birth to a new cottage industry. Websites sprung up for the sole purpose of helping denizens of the erotic services section circumvent the need for a working phone.

Now craigslist has started a new initiative in limiting the amount of erotic service ads. Craigslist made this announcement as a joint partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Their new measurements are to start charging a small fee with a valid credit card to be able to place an erotic services ad. The money from the ads will go to a charity, which to my knowledge craigslist has not announced which charity it would be. Also craigslist is suing the websites that seek to circumvent its security measures.

On the surface this all seems great however if you dig a little deeper you'll see that this is nothing more than a PR move from craigslist. This will not discourage pimps and prostitutes from trying to make money on craigslist. They'll just go to using more illegal means. I predict that you'll see either pre-paid or stolen credit cards used to place the ads. And instead of eliminating the erotic services section altogether craigslist trots out the NCMEC as its partner in this crusade. I'm not knocking the NCMEC, they do some great work, but they've been duped in this matter. These measures were put in place due to an agreement craigslist reached with the attorneys general of 42 states. This was an obvious compromise mostly just to get the AGs of their back.

If craigslist was really concerned about human trafficking and child prostitution they would eliminate the erotic services section in its entirety. Their excuse is if they did then those people placing ads would just place them in other parts of the site. Isn't that where their user policing is supposed to come in? There are plenty of other websites out there where 'escort services' advertise their wares, it's not exclusive to just craigslist. However it's my belief that they won't eliminate the erotic services due to the traffic it drives to the site.

And by some miracle if these measures actually do eliminate prostitution from craigslist there will still be the regular assortment of scams, robberies, sexual assaults and stolen goods that occur regularly on craigslist.

by Trench Reynolds
image: Trench Network

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