Craigslist Under Attack Over Prostitution Concerns

Dennis Faas's picture

Internet classified ads site Craigslist is facing double trouble over claims that it aids illegal prostitution. The company has come under fire from former trafficking victims just days after losing a bid to be declared exempt from prosecution over the issue.

The site has been under attack by state attorney generals for two years, most arguing for tighter restrictions over its explicit advertising. Though most advertisements for such services use coded phrases, officials believe the site violates bans on ads that directly solicit customers for this purpose.

Craigslist management voluntarily agreed to restrict posts on its services category so that advertisers had to provide a verified credit card and a phone number, which was designed to make it easier to track those whose posts breached the law.

States Head to Court

That wasn't enough for some states, which continued to bring legal action.

One case in Illinois was rejected on the basis that the laws which regulate illicit material online specifically state that a site which allows users to post messages is not legally classed as the publisher of those messages, meaning Craigslist wasn't legally responsible for arranging meetings between those willing to sell themselves and their respective clients.

Another case brought by South Carolina seeking to ban such services from being listed at all on Craigslist was put on hold. However, Craigslist filed a lawsuit demanding that its activities be declared legal and exempt from prosecution.

Last Friday a judge threw out that request. Judge C. Weston Houck ruled that as nobody from Craigslist has been charged with a crime yet, it's impossible to decide whether or not anyone has committed an offense. That verdict is no guarantee that a prosecution will succeed, but does mean the option of prosecuting remains open. (Source:

Newspaper Ad Slams Site

Legal matters aside, the site also suffered a major publicity blow with the publication of an advertisement in the Washington Post placed by two women who say they were forced into the skin trade, one at the age of 11, and say that is not unusual.

They say they were forced to place advertisements on Craigslist and say traffickers regularly use the site because it is "so well known and there are rarely consequences to using it for these illegal acts". (Source:

Craigslist's chief executive defended the site, telling the Post, "scapegoating advertising services is a very unfortunate misdirection of attention and energy from the tough choices, hard work, and significant investments required for addressing actual causes of, and making actual progress against the scourges of [trafficking]."

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