Recent news around misuse of craigslist for the sexual exploitation of minors has led the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) to make the difficult decision to return a sizeable charitable contribution from craigslist Charitable Fund.
To be clear, we do not believe that craigslist actively supports trafficking of women for the purposes of sex or sexual exploitation of minors. We also understand that other organizations may choose to accept funds from the craigslist Charitable Fund, and for valid reasons.
CHANGE did our due-diligence, and was glad to see that craigslist contributes funds to anti-trafficking groups; includes on its website warnings, safety tips and information to report suspected exploitation of minors and trafficking of women for the purposes of sex; and cooperates with law enforcement. However, we think craigslist should go the extra mile for women. There are additional steps the company could take to develop a more meaningful response to the serious human rights violations that seem to be facilitated by the site.
CHANGE does not take a position on the sex ads that appear on craigslist --we consider these issues very complex. In offering suggestions about how to improve safety and respect for women who engage in sex work or who may answer such ads, our suggestions should not be read as approval of the advertising that appears on craigslist for sexual services.
In a letter to craigslist Charitable Fund president, James Buckmaster, CHANGE suggested craigslist take the following steps:
- Establish an advisory council of experts in sex work, human trafficking and human rights to review existing policies at craigslist related to sex ads and help establish new criteria and procedures for craigslist to follow to ensure that such ads do not violate, but rather respect human rights. Such an advisory council should have a clear vision, should not conflate sex work with sex trafficking, and should be grounded in fundamental human rights.
- Establish transparent procedures to demonstrate how craigslist is addressing the misuse of craigslist for purposes of human trafficking and exploitation of minors. Craigslist is one of many venues that advertise for "adult services" and should seek to establish best practices that other companies could follow to combat the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls through advertisements in online and print media.
- Fund sex worker organizations that advocate for the human rights of sex workers and their access to health and other social and legal services (groups like HIPS in Washington, D.C.; and The Sex Workers Project in New York).
- Continue to contribute funds to organizations that fight all forms of human trafficking and work to develop a policy that allows for a more transparent donation process at the craigslist Charitable Fund. Allow for input and assistance from the organizations the fund supports to ensure craigslist is furthering the cause against human trafficking rather than hindering it.
Craigslist has an opportunity to demonstrate corporate responsibility and leadership. By using this unfortunate situation to establish a new and strategic approach to addressing trafficking, craigslist could make a powerful, positive contribution toward advancing the rights of women.