Editors' Note: Guest bloggers Andrea Ritchie and Jarad Ringer are two of New York City's foremost experts on violence against sex workers. Ms. Ritchie is the Director of the Sex Workers Project at Urban Justice Center. Mr. Ringer is the Coordinator of the Hate Violence and Police Relations Program at the New York City Anti-Violence Project.
The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) and The Sex Workers Project (SWP) have been following and tracking recent debates concerning the use of Craigslist and similar websites to offer erotic services and to negotiate consensual sexual encounters. We are very concerned about the NYPD's increased attention to policing the use of Craigslist, and specifically about their apparent targeting of LGBT individuals who use the site to meet sexual and romantic partners.
Gay men and transgender women in particular have been arrested for prostitution-related offenses based on their use of Craigslist for cruising, dating and commercial sexual exchanges. AVP and SWP work together to support and advocate for people who are engaged in sex work and/or perceived to be sex workers - including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities, who have a long history of being profiled and targeted as sex workers.
SWP's 2005 examination of the indoor sex industry, Behind Closed Doors, found that indoor sex workers experience lower levels of violence than street- based sex workers. Sex workers themselves point out that, rather than promoting trafficking in persons and violence against them, Craigslist and similar sites allow them to operate more independently and free of coercion or exploitation, and to screen potential clients more carefully.
Unfortunately, several high profile cases have led to a perception of people who use sites like Craigslist as dangerous and criminal. The murder of George Weber murder earlier in this year by a person he met on Craigslist and agreed to engage in consensual sex with, has been used as justification for increased targeting of gay men "cruising" on Craigslist. Similarly, the recent murder of a Queens man, allegedly committed by someone he entered into a commercial sexual exchange with over Craigslist, has been perceived as evidence of the myth that there are a large number of "murderous sex workers" looking for victims online.
The increased media attention brought to the site by the case of the Massachusetts medical student who is accused of murdering and assaulting women he met on Craigslist has unfortunately led to increased policing and punishment of sex workers using the site. The focus on the evils/perils of sex work, rather than a recognition that because the accused met the victims on Craigslist law enforcement was able to more rapidly identify a suspect than, for instance in the case of the Green River Killer, who was able to murder dozens of street-based sex workers over a period of decades before ever being caught, only serves to keep sex workers in dangerous situations.
AVP and SWP are joining with members of the LGBT community and sex worker rights organizations to call for restraint and objectivity in law enforcement's approach to websites such as Craigslist, especially in same-sex personal ad links. Law enforcement efforts focused on targeting Craigslist users believed to be engaging in sex work and members of the LGBT community seeking to meet sexual and romantic partners often result in the arrests of innocent people in LGBTQ communities rather than prevent violence against sex workers and other members of the community.
We encourage the NYPD to instead focus their efforts on holding perpetrators of human trafficking and others who exploit and abuse sex workers and members of the LGBTQ communities - including those within their own ranks.