The Unfortunate Fortune of Craigslist

Poor Craigslist. It is hard to be popular. is by far the largest classified advertising site in the United States. Each month, roughly 50 million users visit the site for everything from free couches to basset hound puppies.

Its widespread popularity also makes it a hub for human traffickers: pimps who sell women and children, forcing them to comply through violence and manipulation.

Craigslists’ adult advertising section brings in a third of the site’s revenue each year, or roughly $36 million.

Unfortunately it also makes it easy for traffickers to sell their slaves. In particular, ads that offer youth as a selling point often hide the dark truth that the girl for sale is ten years younger than the ad says she is and is being offered against her will.

Recently two victims of human trafficking claim that they were sold on Craigslist. They released half-page newspaper ads in the form of an open letter against the cyber-corporation.

After a long silence, Craig Newmark (THE Craig) of Craigslist issued a response, in which he cites many ways that Craigslist stands alone in fighting human trafficking. He includes in the list the manual screening Craigslist does of every adult ad placed on their site.

The Craigslist Adult Services Warning, with a Human Trafficking Clause

But after signing on to the site and agreeing to their terms (including a requirement that you report any ads that could be human trafficking-related), a simple search for the word “young” will bring up dozens of ads with pictures included of bodies that look exactly that – very young.

Some anti-trafficking organizations now recommend using family-friendly Ebay Classifieds, which does not allow any adult services to be posted. (Though Ebay has held a stake in Craigslist, and has been known to offer adult services elsewhere in the world.)

By cutting out online adult markets through consumer choices, the lack of publicity and anonymity would presumably help protect trafficked women and girls.

Ebay Classifieds

The victims who make it out of their enslavement and who testify later often list Craigslist as the most common, and most lucrative, place they were sold.

Regardless of the manual screening Newmark claims each ad receives, the illegal sales are getting through, and at very high numbers. The ads are sometimes only up for an hour or two in the late afternoon so that the clients have time to find them and set up appointments. Then they are taken down by the user so that no one can track them down.

Craigslist is a leader in their industry, which is one reason why they have the most ads of this nature coming through. It is also why they must be held to a very high standard. It is not my job, as a regular citizen disinterested in their adult services ads, to go on their site and search every city, every day, for girls sold on the basis of being “young,” “innocent,” or “new.”

That is Craig’s job, and the job of his list.

Join in!

What else could Craigslist do to stop being used for human trafficking?

What else could victims and anti-trafficking groups do to help Craigslist be a better industry leader?

3 Responses to “The Unfortunate Fortune of Craigslist”
  1. joan says:

    Unbelievable! I had no idea (I guess because I never looked for it). I seem so protected from this, but then again sometimes I am a bit naive.

  2. Darrell says:

    I refer your readers to a long (about 23 pages) but excellent article called “New Eugenics and the Rise of the Global Scientific Dictatorship–The Technological Revolution and the Future of Freedom.” By Andrew Gavin Marshall the article can be found at Global

    Mr. Marshall’s 3 part study is about how technological advances have occurred faster than our ability to control them. I don’t know the answer and perhaps there is no answer available as yet. The internet is wonderful in many ways but also brings about a continuing loss of privacy and freedom. Those who seek to exploit and control others have a ready source of what used to be private information on the internet. It also gives these people from around the world the ability to know and aid each other.

    Changes suggested so far involve loss of freedom in other ways and as a result the answer is elusive.

  3. Michael says:

    Perhaps law enforcement agencies could set up sting operations where they pretend to be a buyer more often. It would be necessary, of course, that they don’t end up punishing the trafficked person but instead us it to provide rescue for him/her and track down the perpetrator.

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