After testifying at a hearing regarding domestic minor sex trafficking on Wednesday, Craigslist officials agreed to remove adult services advertisements in this country for good.
Her.meneutics has followed the story of Craigslist closely (see a 2009 interview with Kaffie McCullough and news report from March). In June, we interviewed Malika Saada Saar, founder and director of Rebecca Project for Human Rights, which monitors Craigslist's postings and launched a campaign to end the adult services section of the popular web site. At that time, Saada Saar urged readers:
Be very aware that all of our girls are really at risk of this issue of sexual violence. There is a statistic that 1 in 3 girls, by the time she reaches 18, will have suffered some form of sexual violence. So I think it's important for us to honor the sacredness of our daughters, and recognize that too often our girls are sexually victimized. Whether it is a trafficker, or someone who purchases our girls, or the next door neighbor who goes onto Craigslist, we have to be able to hold accountable those persons who subject our girls to sexual violence. We should be able to honor our girls' sacredness, to talk to them, and to recognize that they deserve only to be honored in their bodies, not hurt, not criminalized.
Due to the continuous efforts by human rights advocates, law enforcement, and Congress, on September 3, Craigslist stopped running the adult services, formerly known as "erotic services." It has received much criticism for its adult services section, which has been linked to sex trafficking, particularly of children.
Approximately 100,000 children are prostituted every year. At the House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children president Ernie Allen stated, "Internet services have made it possible to pimp these kids, offering them to prospective customers with little or no risk."
Craigslist has been reluctant to remove this section. It charges money for these types of postings - sources claim that the site makes $30 to over $40 million on those advertisements - and invokes the argument of free speech and censorship. The Washington Post reports:
[S]ome lawmakers questioned whether the need to protect children overrides the need to protect free speech. "Speech in the form of postings that incite violence against children is not protected speech," Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) said.
Yesterday, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly posted on his blog:
Doesn't common sense and common decency dictate that it's just a bad idea to openly (or even subtly) advertise prostitution online? To me, wisdom dictates that a society has an obligation to protect its most vulnerable and most easily exploited members.
By pulling down this objectionable section, I'm encouraged to see that Craigslist has taken a step in the right direction.
The permanent removal of adult services was also followed with the announcement that Philip Markoff's case was dropped. The "Craigslist killer" took his own life before he could stand trial for Julissa Brisman's 2009 murder, who had advertised under the adult services section. Under law, Craigslist is not held responsible for crimes committed on its site, either.
Although human rights advocates and law enforcement applaud the section's removal, Craigslist has not agreed to remove the adult services section from other countries' sites. Advocates are still concerned that traffickers will continue to use other, smaller sites to sell which will not be as well-monitored as Craigslist. Time reported that Craigslist's director of law enforcement relations, William Powell, said, "Those who formerly posted 'adult services' ads on Craigslist will now advertise at countless other venues. It is our sincere hope that law enforcement and advocacy groups will find helpful partners there."
What do you think about Craigslist's new policy? What is the next step to end human trafficking?