Craigslist’s ‘Adult Services’ section was an open invitation for illicit activities; but has Craigslist done nearly enough?

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NEW YORK (9/9/10) – Last week, after being pressured by state law enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations that combat sexual trafficking, the classified giant Craigslist blocked its “Adult Services” section, which served as an advertising forum for unlawful and other harmful activity.

Morality in Media president Robert Peters had these comments.

Depending on its use, the word “adult” can connote either what is mature or what is illicit.  When it connotes the latter, as it did on Craigslist, it often also serves as an attempt to legitimize or cover up what is unlawful, like prostitution and obscenity.  Retired FBI Agent Roger Young elaborates:

“People in the pornography industry do not like the word [pornography].  It has a derogatory meaning. The term ‘adult material’ was put forth by them to soften it, to try to make it more acceptable in the community.  They’d rather say that this is mainstream, run-of-the-mill, adult material, not pornography, because they know that ‘pornography’ came from two Greek words, ‘porne’ and ‘graphos,’ which literally translated means ‘the writing of prostitutes.’”

And apparently, it isn’t just on its “Adult Services” section that Craigslist profits from illicit activity.   On Tuesday of this week, Morality in Media received an email which stated the following:

“Why isn’t someone pursuing criminal actions against Craigslist and these perverted criminals who are posting nationwide on Craigslist—soliciting and seeking sex with dogs and horses, etc?  Just about every major city in every Craigslist state site lists these ads in the personals/casual encounters sections as ‘k9’, yet no one is doing anything to stop it!”

Of course, not everyone who uses Craigslist’s Casual Encounters section is looking to have sex with animals.  As described in theN.Y. Times (“Recklessly seeking sex on Craigslist, 4/19/09):

“Like bathhouses and sex clubs, the Casual Encounters section caters to the erotic underbelly of society… The ads range from prim to raunchy; a good number of people include photographs of precisely what they have to offer. (The site has a policy against posting pornographic pictures, but it does not seem to be enforced very vigorously.)… And then there are the legions of prostitutes and spammers who threaten to take over the Casual Encounters ‘community’…”

And apparently, it isn’t just on its Casual Encounters section that Craiglist caters to the “erotic underbelly of society.”  In an open letter to President Obama, published on and dated 7/20/10, a “concerned member of the LGBT community” had this to say:

“I am writing with regard to a Public Health Crisis devastating the MSM [men who have sex with men] community…The social networking epidemic that I referred to above is websites such as,……Craigslist has a M4M section where users can post what they are looking for sexually in hopes to find other strangers with shared interests.. It’s time these businesses are put on notice, that no longer will they be able to continue the same practices which have been in place…[T]hese websites have become catalysts to unsafe sex practices, substance abuse, and criminal behaviors…and for too long these sites have been allowed to continue ‘business as usual’, as the rates of HIV infection and other STD’s continue to rise amongst the MSM community…”

It would appear that what Craigslist wants is both social respectability and the financial fruits of moral rot and crime; and it is no excuse that after being pressured to do so, it took steps to reduce some ads for illegal ends.  The questions is “Has it done nearly enough?”   And I think the answer is, “Hardly.”

Author: MIM   09/09/2010

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NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.


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