The Unfortunate Fortune of Craigslist
Poor Craigslist. It is hard to be popular.
Craigslist.com 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.
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.
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.
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?