On July 8, 2010, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), Prostitution Research and
Education (PRE) plus more than 75 Co-Sponsors including Innocents at Risk, protested Craigslist's "Adult Services Section" at the company's headquarters in San Francisco, California. "When we arrived, Craigslist was literally whitewashing their cyber trafficking by painting over their corporate logo. The two painters quickly ran off", said Dr. Melissa Farley, Executive Director of Prostitution, Research and Education (PRE) organization. Protest organizers argue that Craigslist's online business facilitates the sex trafficking industry.
According to a legal expert who wishes to remain anonymous, "a substantial portion of Craigslist's profits come from the sale of commercial sexual exploitation, some of it from trafficked children." By allowing online "escort services" code word for prostitution, Craigslist normalizes and facilitates sexual abuse and provides an outlet and incentive for sex traffickers to reach new and established buyers of human sex trafficking.
Others competitors such as geebo.com, a socially responsible online classified agency in business over 10 years, attended the protest to show how to remain profitable while refusing to advertise sex ads. Norma Ramos, Executive Director at CATW said that, "by providing traffickers and johns with a virtual red light district, Craigslist is aiding, abetting and making enormous profits from sex trafficking industry". The various times I contacted Craigslist, no one was available for comment.
The Craigslist protest was co-sponsored by 75 leading human rights and anti-trafficking organizations. including prominent individuals such as: Equality Now, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT-USA), Center for World Indigenous Studies, So optimists International of the Americas, Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence, Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, Asian Americans for Community Involvement, Gloria Steinem, author Victor Malarek, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, and Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
In Chicago, staff members for Illinois's attorney general, Lisa Madigan, have counted more than 200,000 sex ads since late 2008 posted to Craigslist in Chicago alone- they estimate the ads have generated $1.7 million for the company according to the New York Times editorial published on April 25, 2010. In that same article, Craigslist allegedly provided services to the Gambino crime family on charges, among others, of selling sexual services of girls between 15-19 years of age.
Child sex trafficking in the United States is fueled by the demand for prostitution along with impunity for the buyers and at times traffickers. A leading Miami criminal attorney, Joel de Fabio, learned while representing several of his State appointed clients allegedly charged with prostitution that, "Miami's New Times Back Page section is a far more popular site amongst traffickers, prostitutes and johns in Florida because Craigslist is now considered a 'hot'" site, said de Fabio, referring to undercover police working the site.
According to Dr. Farley, author of 20 research articles on trafficking for prostitution, "A majority of men buy sex online many of whom are trafficked or prostituted by third parties. By continuing to allow sex ads Craigslist is continuing to support prostitution and child sex trafficking under their Adult Services Section", she reiterated. In October 2008, in the San Francisco Bay area, Craigslist's own search page listed more than 18,000 advertisements for prostitution - classified under "escort", "massage", "erotic services", "adult services", "adult entertainment" - and other commonly-used terms generally used on classified ads to disguise prostitution.
In 2009, according to the company's website, Craigslist operated with a staff of 28 people. Its main source of revenue is paid job ads in select cities-$75 per ad for the San Francisco Bay area; $25 per ad for New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Seattle, Washington D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon- and paid broker apartment listings in New York City $10 per advertisement.
The site serves over twenty billion page views per month, ranking thirty-third overall among web sites worldwide and seventh overall among web sites in the United States. With over eighty million new classified advertisements each month, Craigslist is the leading classifieds service in any medium. The site receives over two million new job listings each month, making it one of the top job boards in the world. The classified advertisements range from traditional buy/sell ads and community announcements to personal ads and adult services. In 2010, Craigslist projects a 22% increase in revenue - an estimated $36 million - and receives more than 20 billion page views per month. Even after stern Congressional pushback, Craigslist continues to create a sex trafficking advertisement thereby setting an industry trend and disregard for basic human rights.
Protesters are asking Craigslist to close the euphemistically named "Adult Services" section of their website and set a sex industry-free standard that would help to eliminate human trafficking worldwide and prostitution. Although it is an enormous goal to achieve, the alternative is to continue to advertise the sale of sexual exploitation, prostitution, and child sex trafficking in America. As one of the leading classified services, generating an abundant revenue stream that can justify a social responsible agenda, Craigslist should be leading the march.