Earlier this week, a report aired on Anderson Cooper 360 that was both shocking in the information it revealed about local human and sex trafficking and disturbing in how little was being done to prevent it.
The report was about the role that the online classified site Craigslist plays in sex trafficking, and it featured The Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner FAIR Fund. In fact, the entire report took place in the D.C. area because, according to the show, D.C. is one of the busiest cities for online prostitution in the country.
Among the other disturbing revelations:
- “Craigslist is like the Wal-Mart of online sex trafficking right now in this country,” according to FAIR Fund’s Andrea Powell.
- Police say the internet is now the preferred method when it comes to selling women for sex.
- Craigslist is one of the most popular websites that offers an “adult services” section.
- Last year, Craiglist announced that ads were being manually screen and that suspected underage girls would be reported to law enforcement. But according to D.C. police, they’ve never been contacted by Craigslist regarding “adult services” ads that appeared to be from or about underage girls, even though CNN found a number of ads online with words that suggested youth.
A Powerful Silence
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark was confronted during CNN’s story, but he had very little to say and was literally speechless when asked what his company was doing to help the underage girls who were being prostituted on the website he created.
In a commentary posted on CNN.com, Malika Saada Saar, founder of another Women’s Foundation grantee, The Rebecca Project, writes that “an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 children are sold for sex every year in the United States. Most are from 11 and 14 years old.” Saada Saar also tells the story of a girl who was forced into prostitution at the age of 11. The men who had sex with her answered a Craigslist ad. When the girl wrote a letter to Craig Newmark about her experience, she received no answer.
Newmark’s silence speaks volumes. While it’s admirable that Craigslist has said in online commentaries like this one they’re committed to screening all of their ads, it means nothing because it’s not being done effectively. One would think that Craigslist’s methods are broken, that they need a fix. But the problem is that the “adult services” section works for Craigslist. It’s projected that this year Craigslist will make $36 million from adult ads – 30 percent of their 2010 profit coming from that one section of the site. Fiscally speaking, “adult services” ain’t broke, which may be why the company is hesitant to mess with it.
Time for Change
It’s time, though, for Craig to separate himself from Craigslist. And by that I mean stop thinking like a company, and start thinking like a person – a person who is responsible for himself, his fellow human beings and who shouldn’t allow what is a pretty great invention to be abused by people who seek to harm and exploit others.
It’s time for the police to track down and arrest more men who are going online to find underage girls, as well as the men who are exploiting these girls on the internet. It’s time for all of us to become better educated about what’s going on in our communities, both online and off.
I’ve been a part of the Craiglist community for years. I’ve gotten jobs and freelance opportunities from the site. I’ve used it to find apartments and roommates. I’ve made money by selling off some of my furniture every time I move (which is often). I’ve hired people I’ve found through Craigslist. But I won’t be spending my money on the site again until Craigslist cracks down on that “adult services” section and shows us that those nice blog posts they write are more than just lip service. That morals talk just as loud as money.