WASHINGTON — A Craigslist official told lawmakers Wednesday that the classified ad website has no plans to resume its adult services section and defended the company's efforts to stop the sexual exploitation of minors.
But William Clinton Powell also told a House Judiciary Committee panel that people seeking to advertise adult – or sexual – services will now simply migrate to other Internet sites.
He said the decision by Craigslist earlier this month to shut down the adult services section "may be a step backward in terms of addressing the core causes of the issue."
Craigslist was responding to demands from state attorneys general and anti-child trafficking organizations to end adult services because it had become a favorite conduit for illegal ads.
"I have not had a girl who was not marketed online and most of them were marketed on Craigslist," said Linda Smith, a former member of Congress who heads Shared Hope International, a group that rescues women and children trapped by sex traffickers.
Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., agreed that "the Internet has opened a whole new front in the war on trafficking, allowing demand to run free without practical obstacles."
Powell, director of law enforcement relations for the nation's largest classified advertising service, said Craigslist has been aggressive in working to stop child exploitation. He said the company encourages users to report suspected trafficking, features law enforcement and reporting hotlines, participates in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tipline and manually reviewed every adult service ad prior to posting.
"Craigslist has been virtually alone among the many advertising venues carrying adult ads in vigorously combating exploitation and trafficking," he said.
Ernie Allen, head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, agreed that the focus must now be broadened beyond Craigslist. "The goal is to destroy the business model for those who sell children for sex over the Internet."
Lawmakers and witnesses said at least 100,000 minors are exploited by the commercial sex industry in the United States every year. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., chairman of the crime subcommittee, cited estimates that 450,000 minors run away from home every year, and about one-third of those end up being forced into prostitution.
Despite that, it appears that the United States spends more to combat sex trafficking overseas than it does in the United States, said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who is sponsoring an anti-minor sex trafficking bill with Smith.
The Maloney-Smith bill would authorize up to $50 million over four years for grants to provide shelter and care for young victims and ensure adequate resources for law enforcement and prosecutors.
Many young people are treated as criminals instead of victims, and there are nationwide only 50 beds in shelters to address the needs of 100,000 victims, Maloney said.
House Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.house.gov/