Craigslist’s take down of their “Adult Services” ads has had a domino effect on other major classified ad outlets. The most recent ad site to remove erotic ads? The Washington Post, who announced this week they will voluntarily remove all massage parlor ads, which, critics say, encourage sex trafficking.
Earlier this month, Craigslist removed their erotic ads in the wake of criticism from human rights activists and 17 Attorneys General—who sent a joint letter to the San Francisco-based company demanding the removal of the ads, which, they argued, encouraged sex slavery of minors.
At a recent congressional hearing on the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act (H.R. 5575), Craigslist argued that the removal of their erotic ads will only make sex trafficking harder to trace and prosecute. Ads will become more cryptic, and simply move to “less socially responsible venues,” they said.
In some sense, they may be right. Craigslist broke the mold, but other sites have come under fire: Echoing earlier action taken toward Craigslist, 21 Attorneys General sent Village Voice Media a letter demanding the removal of adult ads from Backpage.com (Backpage.com has refused). And, after a blog post written by Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster—seemingly to deflect negative attention from Craigslist—eBay’s classified ads were blasted for peddling sex without adequate screening policies.
The writing is on the wall: erotic ads are bad PR. And grassroots action taken against Craigslist seem likely to be levied against even more classified sites.
So it came as no surprise yesterday when the Washington Post announced they will stop accepting massage parlor ads, which, our ATEST partners Polaris Project contend, “are often front[s] for brothels selling trafficked women.” This move was a long time coming. WaPo Omudsman Deborah Howell pointed out that the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe all don’t allow massage parlor ads—and that it’s high time “The Post should join them.”
Craigslist representatives testified at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on sex trafficking of minors this morning. It was the first time the website made a detailed public statement about the recent take down of their “Adult Services” ads. Craigslist removed these ads under pressure from human rights groups who said they facilitated the sex trafficking of minors.
2010 Free the Slaves Freedom Award winner Tina Frundt spoke at the hearing. A survivor of childhood sex trafficking, Frundt is now the founder of Courtney’s House, a Washington, D.C.-based shelter for survivors of sex slavery.
In her statement, Frundt said:
“The Internet has played a part in the sex trafficking of every client at Courtney’s House. Furthermore, every pimp has a MySpace page. Traffickers are learning how to exploit the Internet using Craigslist and Backpage.com, as well as chat rooms where they become as familiar as a classmate to the girls and boys having lengthy ‘conversations’ with them every night safely at home. Something must be done to restore safety to the Internet.”
Craiglist sent two representatives to the hearing: William Clinton Powell, director of customer and law enforcement relations, and Elizabeth McDougall, the website’s legal council. Powell stated that Craigslist has permanently removed the adult services ads from their U.S. site.
McDougall’s statement reiterated the argument that removing the “Adult Services” ads from Craigslist will drive sex trafficking further underground, making it harder to trace and prosecute:
“‘Migration of the relatively small percentage of total U.S. adult services advertising that had been posted on Craigslist to less socially responsible venues uninterested in best practices is an unfortunate step backward in the fight against trafficking and exploitation… In Craigslist, law enforcement and NGO advocates had a highly responsive partner that listened to and was willing to meet with all concerned parties, and worked collaboratively to develop and implement best practices for minimizing such harms in the context of adult services advertising.’” (quote gleaned from Wired.com)
Read Tina Frundt’s testimony in full after the jump. Or, download the PDF here.
- “The Whistleblower,” a feature film about modern day slavery, starring Rachel Weisz premiered to standing ovations at the Toronto Film Festival on Monday. The film is based on the true story of Kathy Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who went to Bosnia in 1999 as a UN peacekeeper—where she discovered and blew the whistle on a human trafficking ring.
- CNET: Craigslist urged to shut erotic-services ads worldwide: “In the U.S., Craigslist renamed the section from ‘erotic’ to ‘adult.’ But in other countries, the section is still known as ‘erotic.’ The U.S. and Canadian versions contained a ‘Warning & Disclaimer’ page discussing human trafficking and sexual exploitation, according to the groups. However, that warning is not present on any of the international versions.”
- ABC News: In Houston, a fake slave auction draws attention to human trafficking: “Americans citizens are also forced into slavery, particularly children and young girls… Roughly 20 percent of human trafficking rescues in the U.S. happen in Texas, but authorities often have trouble getting victims to testify against traffickers.”
Craigslist has been allowing the advertisement of children for commercial sex around the world, including in the United States, for years. I used to work at Polaris Project, a major domestic anti-trafficking organization where I had clients, young American girls, who’d been advertised on Craigslist.
Finally, Craigslist has taken down its “adult services” section in the U.S., in response to outcry from activists and law enforcement officials. But for some reason they still think it’s ok to continue their “Erotic Services” section in places like India, where Free the Slaves has programs and where sexual slavery of girls in prostitution is widespread.
Along with 103 other representatives from the anti-slavery movement, Free the Slaves President Kevin Bales signed a letter sent to Craigslist calling for a takedown of all their adult services ads. Last week, Craigslist did take down adult ads—but only on their U.S. site. They did this, seemingly in response to criticism levied at them from the media, activists and 17 attorneys general who publicly denounced the website for what they saw as facilitating sex trafficking. (Download a PDF of the letter here.)
Craigslist has largely kept mum since they took down their U.S. adult ads. But a representative is scheduled to break this silence tomorrow at a House Judiciary hearing. Free the Slaves Freedom Award winner Tina Frundt, a survivor of childhood sex trafficking and advocate for sex slaves in the U.S. is also scheduled to testify.
The letter signed by Kevin Bales will also be presented at this hearing. Download the letter here, or read it in full after the jump:
Under a barrage of media scrutiny and accusations of facilitating sex trafficking, Craigslist quietly took down the adult services section of their website last week. Other than emblazoning a bold “censored” bar over the adult services link on their website—which they took down a few days later without statement—Craigslist has been largely silent on the matter.
But on Wednesday, Craigslist will break its silence at a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. The hearing will explore the role of online ad services in the exploitation and trafficking of minors. Craigslist’s Director of Customer Service and Law Enforcement Relations, William Clint Powell will testify alongside federal lawmakers and representatives from law enforcement and human rights groups.
Among the panelists will be Tina Frundt, winner of the 2010 Frederick Douglass Freedom Award. Frundt—herself a survivor of childhood sex slavery—is the founder Courtney’s House, an organization that helps sex trafficking victims transition back into the community.
Some have called Craigslist the “Walmart of online sex trafficking,” saying the website facilitates illegal activities, and does not properly safe guard the public. But others argue that censoring the adult services ads on Craigslist—by far the most popular personal ads website in the country—will drive sex trafficking further underground, making it harder to trace and prosecute.