Craigslist Faces More Heat Over Sex Ads

Craigslist and prostitution

An Illinois sheriff is suing Craigslist in an attempt to stamp out prostitution and child exploitation from the popular online classifieds site.

Cook County sheriff Thomas Dart announced the federal lawsuit at a press conference in Chicago, telling reporters that his office is replete with cases where illegal activities were facilitated through Craigslist, which he called the “largest source of prostitution in America.”

“This has to stop. This cannot continue to go on,” Dart said. “We’re talking about charges we have for human trafficking, arresting for juvenile pimping, for prostitution — we have all of it here.”

The lawsuit comes just four months after Craigslist announced plans to implement new policies and technical features designed to purge illegal activity from the site, but for Dart, those measures fell short.

He is taking to the courts with a lawsuit that aims to force Craigslist to remove the Erotic Services section from the site, and compensate his office for the salaries of employees investigating Craigslist-related cases.

“This is horrific stuff, folks. This is not pretty stuff. Some of the women that we have talked to will talk to us about how they were sucked into this,” Dart said. “These are very young women here.”

He added, “And yet we have this Web site that facilitates this. And somehow we’re all supposed to feel good about it because it’s a legitimate business. Since when have we felt good about a legitimate business that facilitates a criminal act as an accomplice? How is this any different than two individuals that enter into an agreement to conduct prostitution, where one will handle the women and the other is going to advertise for them. There is no difference here.”

A spokeswoman for Craigslist said that the company is continuing to scour its listings for unlawful content, adding that it routinely partners with law enforcement agencies as they purse criminal investigations involving the site.

“Misuse of Craigslist to facilitate criminal activity is unacceptable, and we continue to work diligently to prevent it,” Susan MacTavish Best told “Misuse of the site is exceptionally rare compared to how much the site is used for legal purposes. Regardless, any misuse of the site is not tolerated on Craigslist.”

She added, “Craigslist is an extremely unwise choice for those intent on committing crimes, since criminals inevitably leave an electronic trail to themselves that law enforcement officers will follow. On a daily basis, we are being of direct assistance to police departments and federal authorities nationwide.”

Craigslist had hoped it put the prostitution issue to rest in November, when it reached an agreement with 40 states attorneys general to get tough on crime on the site.

As part of the policy changes, Craigslist began requiring a working phone for placing an ad in the Erotic Service section, and started charging a fee for those listings.

The site also pledged to deploy new filtering technology to patrol the site and scrub it of illicit ads. Craigslist is developing new digital tags that will enable parental-screening software to block access to the erotic services section.

The site also said it was refining its internal protocols for blocking ads containing code words or euphemisms that often refer to illegal activity, and it has given users the ability to flag pornographic or otherwise illegal content.

To Dart, Craigslist’s new policies have failed to curb illegal activity on the site, which he maintains continues to facilitate a robust online sex trade.

Following Craigslist’s new policies in November, several sex workers told that Craigslist and other Web sites had a liberating effect on the industry. The Internet had broken down the structure of the sex industry by enabling women to work without managers or pimps.

The working girls expressed disappointment that Craigslist seemed to be growing hostile to their trade, but said that if the popular classified site cracked down on the business, they would simply move to other sites.

A quick scan of the Erotic Services section of the site suggests that the online sex trade is alive and well on Craigslist.

Many ads offering services outline the terms in not-so-subtle euphemisms, such as:

“15 mins 50 spankings 30mins 80 spankings 1hr 120 spankings” and “*** TOE CURLING MENU INCLUDES*** QUICK VISIT: 100 KISSES HALF HR FUN: 120 KISSES 1 HR UNRUSHED – 200 KISSES.”

Update adds comments from Craigslist.

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