September 2, 2010
In recent ads in the San Francisco Chronicle and The Washington Post, female victims of sex trafficking highlighted the role they said the website Craigslist played in their exploitation.
The women pleaded with founder Craig Newmark to eliminate the adult services section of the site, where sex ads are frequently placed, until adequate safeguards are put in place to prevent women and children from being bought and sold for sex on his site.
Unfortunately, Craigslist is not taking its role in the sex trafficking crisis seriously enough. In his response to the ad campaign, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster claimed that sex trafficking rarely occurs on the website. This is simply untrue.
In the 14 months since Craigslist first implemented manual screening, it has made only 109 reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. This means less than 1 percent of the 700,000 ads removed for inappropriate content were actually reported to the proper authorities. With roughly 300,000 children in the U.S. at risk of sexual exploitation each year, these numbers simply do not add up to a successful screening policy.
In the latest communication to Buckmaster and Newmark, 16 state attorneys general asserted the companys much touted manual review of adult services ads has failed to yield any discernable reduction in obvious solicitations.
Current measures by Craigslist to prevent sex trafficking are inadequate. In July, the Victims Rights Caucus and the Human Trafficking Caucus held a briefing on domestic sex trafficking of minors, where National Center for Missing and Exploited Children President and CEO Ernie Allen addressed the shift of sexual exploitation from the streets to Craigslist and other online venues, where children are marketed for sex.
Craigslist has taken steps, including requiring credit card validation, screening ads, reporting suspicious ads to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and cooperating with law enforcement investigations, Allen said. Yet, American kids continue to be marketed and sold online for sex. The problem is not declining, it is growing. The goal is to end this insidious industry. Craigslist needs to do more, and every other online classifieds company needs to join them.
While Craigslist should be commended for engaging in some manual screening of ads on its website, the measures are still inadequate. As the largest and most frequented adult services website, Craigslist must take leadership in solving this problem.
Recently, Craigslist executives asked its users to start policing the website for illicit content. While we all hope that good Samaritans will report suspicious posts, Craigslist is ultimately responsible for the content on its site. And with expected earnings of $36 million dollars this year from its adult services section alone, Craigslist has the resources to prevent and respond to sex trafficking on its site.
Surely, a company as tech-savvy and innovative as Craigslist can prioritize this issue and come up with more effective screening methods. The reality is that there are thousands of Internet sites besides Craigslist that facilitate the trafficking of innocent women. However, as an industry leader, Craigslist bears the burden of setting and upholding a standard of behavior for others to follow.
One sex trafficking victim is one too many. Buckmaster and Newmark need to change their tone and join, rather than debate, those who are trying to fight this problem. Although this country is often polarized on many issues, we can all agree that Craigslist needs to take action to protect women and children from sex traffickers.
We echo the request made by the 16 state attorneys general for Craigslist to shut down its adult services section. Craigslist must take appropriate steps to screen the site for illicit content. Trying to fix this problem is just not good enough when children are the victims.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) is the founder and co-chairman of the Victims Rights Caucus, and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) is a member of the Human Trafficking Caucus.