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Q+A: Selling Girls on Craigslist

Jun 22 2010
Rebecca Project founder Malika Saada Saar explains how Craigslist became the medium for human trafficking.

On Saturday night I attended a dinner party in Laguna. A guest seated next to me pulled out a snazzy looking camera, and raved about how he got it for a steal on Craigslist.

In the car, I asked my sister if she's used Craigslist. "Of course! It's the best. It's where all the college students look for housing and jobs." The online classifieds service is one of the most popular websites in the US today.

It's also used for selling women and underage girls.

Last year, Craigslist changed their "erotic services" name to "adult services." They also promised to manually monitor the section for any instances of child prostitution or human trafficking. And they started charging $5 to $10 per sexual service post.

The result? The privately-owned company's revenues for prostitution have gone up. This past April, the FBI arrested 14 Mafia members for selling girls ages 15 to 19 on Craigslist in New York and New Jersesy.

Human rights activists continue to call Craigslist the "biggest online hub for selling women against their will," according to The New York Times. But Craigslist's two largest shareholders, company founder Craig Newmark and chief executive James Buckmaster, appear unperturbed by the complaints of human rights officials and authorities.

One human rights activist watching Craigslist is Malika Saada Saar, who founded the Rebecca Project for Human Rights while attending Georgetown Law. As director of the Rebecca Project, Saada Saar joined forces with other organizations to fight human trafficking in the United States, including trafficking on Craigslist. The Rebecca Project produced the YouTube video on the left with the FAIR Fund youth advocate, and Crittenton Foundation.

Saada Saar recently spoke with me about the problem and her efforts to fight it.

An estimated 100,000 minors in the U.S. are trafficked into prostitution. Why is Craigslist a major hub for trafficking?

[Craigslist] is this iconic, convenient way that we are able to purchase items. And because of the adult services section that Craigslist allows to be part of that process, individuals can purchase a girl for sex in the same manner that they are able to purchase a piece of furniture. Craigslist makes in very convenient.

When you look at who tends to purchase girls for sex, the research shows us that these persons are usually white men who are married and in their 30s and 40s. So it's more convenient and discreet for them to simply go onto Craigslist and purchase a child for sex, than to go out onto the street and do that, or to go to a more taboo site like Backpage or myRedBook.

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Q+A: Selling Girls on Craigslist