THE BLOG

Craigslist Saga: Sex Ads Get Pushed Elsewhere, but Kroobe Says No

12/17/2010 04:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's a disturbing problem in America: human trafficking. It involves the sale and commercial sexual exploitation of hundreds of thousands of innocent young girls. They are entered into the sex trade starting at 12 to 14 years old on average, and many are sold online on websites like Craigslist. It is modern human slavery.

What's even more surprising is that Craigslist and other online search engines including backpage (owned by the Village Voice) are not taking strong enough measures to prevent the listings made by pimps selling young girls for sex. Although Craigslist shut down its Adult Services category is the United States, the problem has migrated to three other areas:

  • International Craigslist: Adult Services has only been shut down on Craigslist's U.S. sites, (Canada, especially Vancouver, currently has a very big human trafficking problem and is trying hard to convince Craigslist to stop adult listings) but not in its international sites for Shenzhen, China (14 million), Lucknow, India (population 2.5 million), and Newcastle, Australia, (280,000), for example.
  • On the day of the closing down of Craigslist adult services section, Craigslist sent messages (including text messages) to individuals who have posted sex ads under its Adult Services section, telling them to post the ads in a different section of Craigslist. (as reported to the FAIR Fund)
  • A migration of sex ads from Craigslist over to backpage, oodle, and eBay's LoQuo.com.

On its blog, Craigslist claims that, "before being posted each individual ad is reviewed by an attorney licensed to practice law in the United States, trained to enforce Craigslist's posting guidelines."

However, anti-trafficking advocates like Andrea Powell, Executive Director of the FAIR Fund, say that they "have clear evidence that either Craigslist is not screening ads or is knowingly allowing children to be bought and sold on their web site." Powell, who is one of the most vocal figures combating human trafficking in the United States, claims that she still finds dozens of sex trafficking ads spread across various sections of Craigslist including "outcall massage" ads in the Therapeutic Services section of Craigslist. Powell says that keywords like "outcall massage" or "young" or "innocent" are posted by pimps and traffickers as a way to indicate to potential pedophiles that a minor is being sold.

What's more, sex trafficking ads appear to have migrated from Craigslist to other sites, including oodle.com, backpage.com, and various popular social networking sites. Craigslist's own blog says that "When craigslist implemented manual screening of adult ads in May 2009, adult ads on backpage spiked by a factor of 5-10x, and you can see from the graph below that their page view traffic, which was flat until we implemented manual screening, more than quadrupled in the year following."

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Unfortunately, it appears that there are high financial incentives for Craigslist and other online search engines to continue fighting to keep their adult services online sections operational. In the case of Craigslist, posters in the adult services section were asked to pay $10 to post ads. In the case of "AK" who wrote an open letter to Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, Powell says, "Between $3000 and $4000 was made from selling AK's body. Her pimp made between $30,000 and $40,000. AK made nothing other than an occasional meal. What do you call someone who profits from the sale of another human being? A trafficker."

Businesses such as the social networking classifieds website Kroobe.com have had enough, and want to become part of the solution, not the problem. Kroobe's Founder, Salmane Saadani, hopes to start a movement where classifieds websites and social networking sites adopt strict practices to combat sex trafficking, such as manual monitoring of every ad. Kroobe has been chosen by the FAIR Fund to participate in its forthcoming best practices guidelines prepared for online search engines and businesses listings sites, which will highlight key practical best practices that responsible businesses like Kroobe have implemented.

Saadani says, "Our number one priority is to provide a safe and ethical platform for local communities to thrive, while very publicly preventing people from posting sex ads of any kind. We encourage other businesses to join us in this effort to put an end to sex trafficking."

At Kroobe, Saadani says he has set forth specific measures to combat sex ads, and especially sex trafficking ads, including: "rigorously filtering listings, providing strict categories which exclude any adult content and empowering users to participate through reviews, ratings and flags. These measures are consistent with the FAIR Fund developed best business practices to reduce the commercial sexual exploitation of minors online."

Currently, Kroobe.com does not charge users to post classifieds ads on its website.

Aaron Cohen, author of Slave Hunter and founder of AbolishSlavery.org, says that it is the corporate responsibility of classifieds websites like Craigslist to "allocate 15 to 20% of corporate profits to monitoring (sex ads)." He advocates that "companies should research the percentage of their budget that it would take to stop the trafficking."

Both Cohen and Powell have expressed their hope that Craigslist, Backpage, and others would hear their advice and follow the example of newcomers like Kroobe that manually monitor ads and systematically limit the possibility of sex ads being published on their websites.