Over this last weekend, those who relied upon Cragslist adult services got a rude awakening. Without any warning, and with no official statement yet, Craigslist removed the adult services section from all US sites and replaced it with a small censored image.
One friend of mine was extremely startled, as she relies on the ad section for her source of income and had to suddenly scramble to make up the few hundred dollars that she needed for the rent that is due. Presumably, thousands of others are in a similar situation.
"Could you imagine going into work one day, only to find out the building has been burned to the ground by an angry mob wielding torches and pitchforks; You're out of a job and have no clue as to what's next?"
After searching for news, it turns out this occurred because last week 17 state Attorney Generals sent a letter to Craigslist demanding that they shut down the section.
Apparently there was an advocacy agency that paid for newspaper ads where two 17 year old girls discussed their experiences as victims of human trafficking and blame Craigslist because their captors used the service to place ads about them.
It is indeed a horrific story of abuse and all reasonable actions need to be taken to prevent such cases from happening. But legally holding the ad service accountable and demanding that they shut themselves down (relying on intimidation of legal threat rather than obtaining a court order) seems to be a tactic unique to the adult industry.
I receive scam offers through my email service regularly; some even seem like they might put my physical safety at risk. Yet if anyone does fall for them and is taken advantage of, I doubt the government would demand google shut down their email service - or that Western Union shut down their money wiring service.
Too often people are allowed to get sloppy when discussing stories which invoke sexuality and panic at the same time. In the UK, attempts to change the laws on prostitution (making it more illegal) were based upon the fear that the vast majority of people engaging in prostitution were trafficked and forced into prostitution. Fiona Mactaggart, a Labour Member of Parliament stated that "Something like 80% of women in prostitution are controlled by their drug dealer, their pimp, or their trafficker." However, there are no such studies that make any sort of claim. She was more likely confused by the UK statistic that 80% of women in prostitution were not born in the UK - which is often used to imply that all or most of those women are trafficked.
Similarly, the Craigslist story is already being used as a platform to perpetuate these uncited and imagined statistics and claims. In the Huffington Post, Danah Boyd claims that "the vast majority of prostitution is nonconsensual, either through force or desperation," and uses that claim to advocate for further police stings and arrests of sex workers. Without supporting that claim with any reasoning other than her own gut feeling, she relies on the vague concept of a person's employment being non-consensual because they are desperate. If that were a valid line of reasoning, most minimum wage employers would have a major non-consensual labor problem.
Even if most people are engaging in prostitution out of desperation as she claims, removing their preferred or only source of income or putting them in jail will not help them. This would be obvious except for the fact that she conflates "force or desperation" as being relatively the same experience. Not to mention that incarceration -- and often deportation -- is not an effective way of helping trafficking victims either.
Craigslist has been doing a lot to respond to criticism that traffickers take advantage of their site. A few years ago they started charging for ads in the adult services section, holding onto credit card numbers as a way to track anyone suspected of trafficking. They have since also required a verified phone number to place an add and have begun manually reviewing ads for hints or coded language referencing anyone being underage or trafficked.
Yet despite all this the entire system has to be shut down. Those who rely on it as a comparatively safer way of engaging in sex work are now desperately searching out alternatives and, I would imagine in some cases, turning to less safe ways of engaging in sex work. For whatever traffickers that may have been using craigslist, they are being forced further underground where their ads won't be reviewed and their contact information will not be kept on record. To quote the first site to report the news:
"Craigslist Sex is what scares the general population, and it's what the press and the politicians will continue to use to get their hits and votes. So the Craigslist Adult Section was removed. Is the world now a safer place?"