State attorneys general demand Craigslist remove ‘adult services’ category

State attorneys general want Craigslist to drop its adult services directory, the Associated Press reported today.

craigslist.pngAGs from 18 states sent a letter Tuesday to Craiglist’s CEO, Jim Buckmaster, and its founder, Craig Newmark. The letter contends that the online classifieds site cannot or will not adequately screen ads in the adult services directory, which often include ads for prostitutes.

In the letter, the attorneys general write:

We recognize that craigslist may lose the considerable revenue generated by the Adult Services ads. No amount of money, however, can justify the scourge of illegal prostitution, and the suffering of the women and children who will continue to be victimized, in the market and trafficking provided by craigslist.

In an announcement posted to his website, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, “Craigslist clearly lacks the wherewithal — or will — to fight flagrant prostitution ads that persist on its site. … Prostitution is a booming business on craigslist, perhaps more than ever before.”

States included in the letter along with Connecticut: Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock is included in the list of AGs who have backed the letter, but his signature is not included in the copy of the letter that I found online.

I’ve called his office for a comment. I’ll update this post when I hear back from his spokesman.

UPDATE: Kevin O’Brien, a spokesman from Bullock’s office, called me back this afternoon, confirming that Bullock did sign off on the letter, even though his signature did not, for some reason, make it to the PDF circulating online.

O’Brien said that the attorney general has been working with his counterparts in other states since taking office to stem the exploitation of women and children online.

While O’Brien wasn’t aware of any Craigslist related crimes in Montana, he did say that the site has been expanding its Montana pages lately and it becoming more widely used.

“It’s certainly going to grow in prevalence,” he said. “That’s all the more reason that we need to be vigilant that it’s not being used for illegal purposes.”

O’Brien said that Bullock’s office will likely issue a press statement tomorrow. You can read the full text of the letter after the jump.

Dear Messrs. Buckmaster, Newmark and Wes:

We are writing to request that you immediately take down the Adult Services portion of craigslist.

The increasingly sharp public criticism of craigslist’s Adult Services section reflects a growing recognition that ads for prostitution — including ads trafficking children — are rampant on it. In our view, the company should take immediate action to end the misery for the women and children who may be exploited and victimized by these ads. Because craigslist cannot, or will not, adequately screen these ads, it should stop accepting them altogether and shut down the Adult Services section.

In July 2010, two girls who said that they were trafficked for sex through craigslist wrote an “open letter” to your company in which they pleaded with you to eliminate the Adult Services section. Their poignant account told a horrific story of brutalization and assault suffered not just by them, but also by untold numbers of other children.

Other reports about the Adult Services webpage support these claims. Indeed, in a recent report, CNN correspondent Amber Lyon posted a fictional prostitution advertisement on the Adult Services section, and received 15 telephone calls soliciting sex in just a three hour period.

Ms. Lyon then confronted Mr. Newmark with an actual advertisement found on craigslist depicting a young woman in highly suggestive attire and clearly listing hourly rates. She then asked Mr. Newmark pointedly what services he thought the ad was selling.

Regrettably, Ms. Lyon’s question was met first with silence, then with misdirection. In fact, when Ms. Lyon told Mr. Newmark that some child advocates have dubbed craigslist “the Wal-Mart of child sex trafficking,” he chose to walk away. These reports and others show that that craigslist’s imagined utopia, where every Adult Services advertisement is harmless until proven otherwise, is a fallacy.

In your recent blog posts and public statements, including the CNN interview, you imply that victims, law enforcement officials and children’s advocates may be at least partially to blame for these incidents because they have not provided craigslist with police reports, ad copy or links documenting these heinous crimes. This variant of “blame the victim” is deeply troubling. It also disregards, perhaps intentionally, two fundamental facts. First, craigslist is the only player in the sex industry who is in a position to stop these ads before they are published. Second, once an ad goes live on the site, it is a virtual certainty that someone will be victimized. Yes, the perpetrators may eventually be apprehended and brought to justice, but the victim, assuming she survives, will carry the scars for life. No amount of after-the fact documentation will erase that enduring harm. Equally important, your much-touted “manual review” of Adult Services ads has failed to yield any discernable reduction in obvious solicitations.

We recognize that craigslist may lose the considerable revenue generated by the Adult Services ads. No amount of money, however, can justify the scourge of illegal prostitution, and the suffering of the women and children who will continue to be victimized, in the market and trafficking provided by craigslist.

We sincerely hope craigslist will finally hear the voices of the victims, women and children, who plead with you to make this important change. We, too, call on craigslist to listen and respond now by shutting down the Adult Services section of its website. Such action is the right thing to do to protect innocent woman and children.