Earlier this month, online classifieds service Craigslist unilaterally removed adult services from its listings amid growing political turmoil that the site was profiting from criminals engaged in prostitution and human trafficking. Craigslist did not offer any explanation for removing the listings—merely slapped “Censored” labels over the removed links—but has now clarified its position during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on domestic minor sex trafficking.
Craigslist director of customer service and law enforcement relations William Powell said money was not a consideration in the company’s decision to remove the listings, and that Craigslist had “no intention to bring the category back.”
During testimony, Powell and Craigslist attorney Elizabeth McDougall noted the numerous ways Craigslist had worked with law enforcement and other agencies to implement a phone verification system and charge fees for adult services listings. In an ironic move, critics targeted Craigslist for accepting money for adult services advertisements when the company only implemented the policy at the strong recommendation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Craigslist also performed manual reviews of all adult services listings in an effort to weed out ads for illegal activity, and rolled out tools that enabled users to report suspected trafficking or illegal activities.
“To our knowledge, no other venue has adopted these best practices, and in fact very few venues have adopted more than one of these measures,” Powell said during testimony (PDF). “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.”
Human right advocates (such as the Polaris Project) and critics are now applying pressure to Craigslist to shutdown adult services worldwide: the company’s current shutdown of the category applies only to the United States. McDougall indicated Craigslist is working with Canadian authorities, but that there had been no request from Canada to take the listings down. “They are a sovereign nation,” McDougall said. “We don’t believe that it’s appropriate for the U.S. policy to dictate what Canada’s policy should be.”
Implicit in Craigslist’s testimony before that committee is that, by withdrawing from the adult services ads marketplace, law enforcement and human rights activists have lost a partner who went above and beyond legal obligations to work with law enforcement and nonprofits. Few believe that shutting down Craigslists’ adult services listings will solve online sex trafficking issues: those who place the ads will now scatter to a plethora of less known, less monitored, and less cooperative sites.
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