By Linda Smith
President and Founder, Shared Hope International
Recent news reports have highlighted the role of Craigslist in facilitating commercial sex involving minors – domestic minor sex trafficking. However, as we advocate for the closure of Craigslist’s adult services web page, we must acknowledge that for the lucrative business of online classifieds for “adult services” will continue to exist as long as the fuel that keeps this seemingly endless problem alive exists – DEMAND.
Shared Hope International’s research has demonstrated the connection between increased access and increased demand for paid sexual services. More men and boys are receiving unsolicited Internet advertising for pornography – this explosion in the amount of pornography is causing an unprecedented demand for commercial sex with a female who looks young and healthy – this female is too often a girl. Thriving demand has led to the migration of criminal ventures to the anonymous world of the Internet.
Perusing the local street corner turns into a virtual experience
In the 1980’s, we decimated the pornography industry by focusing on its primary distribution system, the postal service. Today we are faced with a pornography industry a thousand times more pervasive as it utilizes the anonymity and accessibility of the Internet. The dissemination of pornography and access to commercial sex through computers brings the market directly into your home.
Today, anyone can go online to a number of classified services websites and purchase sex with a minor. Where ten years ago these prostituted youth – victims of sex trafficking – might have been forced to stand on a busy street corner, fulfilling a nightly quota for their controlling pimp, today they are more likely to be standing on the virtual street corner of Craigslist, out of sight from those not looking for them but easily accessible for the shopper in the mall of human product.
Craig, the most successful pimp in the world
Craigslist is the giant in the nascent online classifieds industry. Ever the opportunists, child predators have spotted the potential of Craigslist’s “adult services” page and the website has become a bustling marketplace for the buying and selling of our kids for sex.
A new slavery block has been created on Craigslist and many other online classified web pages, and the modern-day slave is an American child under 18 years of age being recruited and ensnared through manipulation and violence by predators who sell them for sex in their own towns and cities across the U.S.
Craigslist has been under attack for facilitating the trafficking of women and children for sex by not preventing it from occurring on their web pages. Sadly, this has made Craig America’s most successful pimp, bringing in an estimated $36 million in profit from the posting of adult services ads last year.
In a 2009 lawsuit filed by the Cook County, Illinois Sheriff against Craigslist for creating a public nuisance through its provision of a forum for prostitution services, the judge said, “We cannot treat Craigslist as if it did create those ads.” While technically true that Craigslist is not creating the ads, shouldn’t they have a responsibility to their customers to refrain from posting them? Is the claim by Craigslist that they monitor the ads and remove those that suggest exploitation sufficient when we know from the mouths of survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking that they have all been marketed on Craigslist?
A minimal response
Craigslist states that the “criminal misuse of the site is quite rare,” and that the site is “one of the few bright spots” when it comes to fighting against child exploitation because the company manually screens each adult services advertisement to filter out those advertising prostitution. In addition, Craigslist claims to assist and be a tool for law enforcement in investigations because it provides phone numbers used in the ad posting and created a victim search interface. But it is clear that neither Craigslist nor any other online classified service can keep an adult service page clean and there can never be enough law enforcement or staff to enforce it. Craigslist claims to have screened hundreds of thousands of ads submitted for posting to the adult services web page, but has only reported 109 of the rejected ads to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for investigation into the potential of an exploited child in the ad. It is encouraging that Craigslist is cooperating with law enforcement and we commend the efforts and successes of law enforcement to investigate these heinous crimes, but maintaining the website for the purpose of corralling buyers and sellers of sex with children is inexcusable. Craigslist and similar online classified services are creating a marketplace and increasing sales as a result of the access.
Craigslist argues that if we close these web pages down in America, then this activity will simply move to Internet sites hosted in other countries – let it! This excuse for failing to prevent exploitation of children through online advertising of prostitution is not convincing to those Americans living with the effects of advertised sexual exploitation on their city streets, draining law enforcement capacity and most important, putting their children and families at risk.
One exploited girl is too many – legislators must respond
“Craigslist is making money misery by misery while we are left to rescue and restore the victims one life at a time,” explained Linda Smith, Founder and President of Shared Hope International.
Almost every girl who survives sex trafficking reports having been sold through Craigslist to ten or more men every day, sometimes forced to post the ad themselves – the conduit to their repeated sexual exploitation. Many girls don’t survive to tell. A conservative calculation reveals that a child victim of prostitution is raped more than one thousand times by as many different men over the course of one year enslaved.
While regulators, legislators and courts wrangle over the ability to control the content and outline the responsibilities of online classified businesses, we must put a stop to this 21st century slave market that permits Craigslist to profit from the demand for commercial sex with our children.
End Craigslist by ending DEMAND
Although Craigslist adult services must be shut down, so too must the demand. If there were no demand for commercial sex with women and children, the market disappears. We cannot turn our backs on the rising demand for commercial sex with our women and children. Shutting down Craigslist adult services, and all those online classified businesses like it, is certainly a necessary step to stop the exploitation, but let’s be certain not to lose sight of the problem of demand.
Watch the documentary DEMAND. to learn more about how demand is driving the criminal sex trafficking markets worldwide.