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Craigslist says it shut down U.S. adult services ads for good

Craigslist, the world's biggest classified Web site, said Wednesday that it has no plans to reinstall the adult services category that it took down more than a week ago amid pressure by law enforcement and anti-prostitution groups. But it also defended itself, saying that shutting down that category won't necessarily curb child trafficking and sex crimes.

The company's announcement, the first since it surprisingly replaced its adult services section with the word "censored" Sept. 3, was made to lawmakers at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on child sex trafficking.

"Craigslist has been virtually alone in combating exploitation," said William Powell, director of customer service and law enforcement relations for Craigslist.

Powell said the firm has worked closely with law enforcement to help curb criminal activity. It reports suspicious activity, hands over credit card information of perpetrators and manually screens its ads for prostitution and advertising of services by minors.

The San Francisco-based company has been pressured for months by state attorneys general and anti-trafficking and sex crimes groups for taking money for the placement of such ads, which critics say fuel a growing problem of crimes against women and children.

But Powell said that by shutting down the service, those ads won't go away but may migrate to other sites. "It may be a step backwards," he said.

But human rights groups and federal law enforcement applauded Craigslist's decision.

"I do think people that post on Craigslist are aware of other sites and may go there," said Andrea Austin, the program manager for human rights group, the Polaris Project. "But this sends a strong signal for the biggest site of them all to say that trafficking and posting girls online for sex won't be tolerated."

And the firm seemed to received support from the White House for its policy that would allow it to maintain adult services.

Powell said that in July, Craigslist executives met with White House staff to discuss best practices in combating sex crimes online. From that meeting, Powell said executives and White House staff were in agreement

"We left with the consensus of all present that craigslist's best practices for managing adult services advertsiing could be used as a model for countless other venues that currently host unmoderated adult content, do not assist law enforcement, and do not engage in best practices generally speaking," according to Powell's testimony.

Craiglist's actions to remove adult services has highlighted a debate over free speech and the responsibility of Internet Web sites that serve as a platform for the placement of ads for sex with minors and prostitution. Some public interest groups have called for an update of laws to make sites such as Craigslist liable when their sites are involved in sex crimes.

“Speech in the form of postings that incite violence against children is not protected speech,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said at the hearing. Craiglist has since taken down the "Censored" label on U.S. sites.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who represents the San Francisco Bay Area, criticized the lack of oversight over Web sites that have helped propel child trafficking.

“Websites escape liability when an ad on their site results in rape, prostitution and even death," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who served as a witness at the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee hearing. “Our priorities are out of balance and perpetrators are taking advantage. A person is more likely to go to jail for selling marijuana than selling a child for sex.”

But free speech advocates say the focus is wrongly placed on Web site operators in fighting sex crimes. And by punishing Web sites and Intenret service providers, speech rights are hindered and companies are strapped from new innovations.

The 1996 Telecom Act protects “intermediaries” like Internet service providers and Web sites such as Craigslist even when illegal activity occurs on those networks and sites.

“This intermediary liability protection has been extraordinarily successful and is directly responsible for the explosive and innovative growth of online services that the United States has experienced over the past few decades,” The Center for Democracy & Technology wrote in testimony to the subcommittee.

The company did not address demands by dozens of advocacy groups that have asked Craigslist founder Craig Newmark to stop placing erotic ads on Craigslist sites in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Canada.

But Elizabeth McDougall, an attorney for Craigslist, said in a testimony at the hearing that Craigslist doesn't agree with some of advocacy groups who have pushed for Web sites to stop services.

Instead, she said Craigslist believes a solution is to work with law enforcement to report suspicious activity. Containing those criminals on one site helped.

Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster were invited by the subcommittee to speak. Buckmaster couldn't attend because of the short notice of the hearing and Newmark isn't involved in day to day operations, Powell said.

A report released Wednesday showed Craigslist generated $30 million in revenue from adult services ads from Jan. 1 to Sept. 3, making it the biggest site for sex-related advertising.

The Post's On Leadership surveyed a panel of experts on Newmark's decision to shut down adult services. Check it out here.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By Cecilia Kang  |  September 15, 2010; 6:26 PM ET
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We can protect the children from pimps, if we decriminalize constenting adults in private. I agree that we need laws that make the site prove the person placing the ad is of legal age. Many sites make you sent in a driver's license,& a model release.
However most of what I see in the news is LE STALKING CONSENTING ADULTS IN PRIVATE.
Currently it is legal for a escort to charge for her time and companionship and LE has no problem arresting escorts even if they did not succeed in soliciting her for an illegal act.
We rarely hold MEN ACCOUNTABLE for their behavior. Rarely are these pimps given the 25 years for human trafficking.
We catch MEN buying child porn, but we are not trying to shut down the porn industry.
Criminalizng consenting adults in private makes it more dangerous for all escorts & victim, we can not report abuse or violence.
Most Escorts and the Johns would report anyone being exploited, especially children.
Why escorts are not allowed the same sanction and protection under the law is WRONG. Prostituion laws were created "from stopping a women from showing her wares in PUBLIC" it had nothing to do with MORALS. So why are we spending our TAX dollars STALKING MIDDLE AGED CONSENTING ADULTS DOWN.
Sex offenders who abuse our kids have more rights than a escort does, why we allow Law enforcment to HARRASS these women is WRONG. Once arrested, while charges are pending the call our employers and landlords trying to rid the community of us. I is OUR COMMUNITY TOO> What I choose to do in private is MY BUSINESS.
MOst sex adovocates are FRAUDS that collect donations for VICTIMS of HUMAN TRAFFICKING, yet they provide no services to any of them. And they lie to the media about the numbers of people being exploited. Most of the examples are people who are allowed to come and go, but do not dial 911 because they fear shame and law enforcement.
In RI from 1979 til 2009 indoor prostituion was decriminalized and there was no problem. They even caught the Craiglist Killer because when he robbed the escort in RI she called 911 and reported it. Then they changed the law here making us criminals for our trade, even though it had nothing to do with human trafficking.
Any time they have a tip of someone being exploited they can simply knock on the door and insist they need to speak to the person, check if they are of legal age and do not need assistance or they can legaly kick the door right in.
Sweden made it illegal to buy sex but decriminalzed the escort and human trafficking went down, and no increase of women in the adult industry.
The yellow pages and newspapers have had these same adult ads for years, people have been murdering escorts and children for years and until CRAIGSLIST nobody cared.
If we decriminalze consenting adults in private, the escorts johns and adult sites could work together to stop these PIMPS.
There is a big difference in adult sex than raping & exploiting kids.

Posted by: mrsrobinson1 | September 15, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse


90% of these arrest are clearly consenting adults. Your tax payer dollars are being spent on a MORAL WITCH HUNT>

Why are they doing stings and trying to lock up MIDDLE AGED ADULTS, rather than policing the ads of the young girls.

We know that the few times someone was dump enough to advertise selling drugs on Craiglist that they where CAUGHT IMMEDIATELY.

I have researched sex advocates and what I found should be criminal, only one of these places provide services to these kids that have been exploited. However these adovcates make their entire salaries by lying to the media wanting to stop any form of prostition at all, saying all women in the industry are being exploited and they argue that we are too dumb to see it. They insist on saving us from ourselves by throwing us in jail and give them huge fines and then they offer us no services..
If we decrimalze what consenting adults do in private and make all the sites prove each ad was placed by an adult, wouldn't that solve the problem. It would do a better job than law enforcment does now. We know LE can't even police 1% of the ads, let alone try to set them all up in a sting.
The biggest Hate crime in the USA is against the escort. Society has shunned us, made us social outcast and taken away our rights to the same protection under the law as everyone else.
However if I am a women who hangs out in bars and I sleep with strangers for FREE we have no problem with it. If we exchange dinner, drinks or vacations for sex on nobody cares, so whether a man pays me 250 a hour for my time, I go to jail. It just doesn't make much sense and then we to lie to te media and public and say its all about women being exploited and abused, the SYSTEM IS ABUSING US. Criminalzing indoor prostituion endangers every escort and every victim of human trafficking.
Even the 12 year old in the news wh was pimped out on Craiglist because she let a pimp con her. She had access to a phone, and she could have asked any of the JOHNS to help her, she didn't. However an person caught having sex with a child should go directly to jail for 25 years whether the are the JOHN or PIMP.
So why are we mainly throwing middle aged women in jail. Escorts want to help the KIDS being exploited.
Had LE not had access to the IP address and credit card info from Craiglist they would not have any leads to track these pimps.
We need to seperate what is moral and what is criminal. Any cop will tell you that it is so easy to get a JOHN to admit anything, because he is not a REAL criminal and has no clue what to do or say when detained by LE.
However the PIMPS, Drug Dealers and Gang members don't snitch on themselves because they are REAL CRIMINALS.
When we contacted these advocates collecting donations for Human Trafficking and asked how one could get help, where should they go,we were directed to a site which is for media information.NO SERVICE

Posted by: mrsrobinson1 | September 15, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I Was watching life unexpected on the cw50...
in one scene the 15 year old girl was in a bra apparently after having had sex with her boyfriend...
then she hangs out all night with a guy she just met in her fathers bar and he turns out to be a teacher at her school...
why tell people that 15 year olds are off limits when you show on tv, that they are not...

Posted by: DwightCollins | September 15, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

As far as the 12 year old found on CL being pimped out, I completely AGREE with mrsrobinson1 as well, she at any point could have picked up the phone and called police or her mother. This 12 year old had options. She must have been left alone numerous times with access to a phone. Some of these 'little' girls are a lot smarter than they are being given credit for and they do know what is up. These 'little' girls are already sexually active with school mates and even making sex tapes themselves. Just turn on any daytime talk show, such as Tyra or Dr. Phil, etc. They also know if they are caught turning a trick they can just say I was forced to do it and they will NOT be charged with prostitution and of course will get the sympathy from the public. I mean who in their right mind wouldn't sympathize with them? I AM NOT SAYING CHILD TRAFFICKING AND CHILD RAPE DO NOT HAPPEN, I am saying that some of these 'little' girls are turning tricks willingly.
But what about the Johns seeing these little girls? They should be charged as well to the FULL extent of the law, THEY are pedophiles.
Law enforcement as well as the government should have been thanking CL for making it so easy to find these pimps and pedophiles but instead they censored CL. Now how are going to find these BAD people? It will take a lot more investigative work as well as tax dollars to find and charge these pimps and pedophiles.
I have so much more to say but I would be here for a week if I do.

Peace to you lovely mrsrobinson1 and I am sure I will chat with you soon on the message boards. Take care and stay safe!

Posted by: purpanaire | September 15, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Well I guess the first post I had made was censored for some reason. WP must NOT like when we tell the complete truth about American police. Funny, well not really and NOT surprising at all.

Posted by: purpanaire | September 15, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

The government can shut down the call-girl ads at Craigslist but it cannot shut down the posting of national security documents at WiliLeaks.

Posted by: blasmaic | September 15, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Weak move CL. Let the law enforcement agencies "enforce the law!" You should be protecting expression and speech. First Amendment is "first" for a reason, it's the most important. Don't give in to CENSORSHIP. CL is not a law enforcement agency. You went out, like a little punk. SELL OUT!!

Posted by: madstamina | September 15, 2010 11:16 PM | Report abuse

LEO's are too lazy to want to actually do the work to stop what they're claiming are problems. Craigslist makes it too easy for them, and they're whining about that.

This won't stop anything, it just hides it. It's wide-stance political theater.

Posted by: Nymous | September 16, 2010 12:07 AM | Report abuse

I guess we need to shut down hotels and motels also since that's where a significant number of the encounters take place and they profit from the sufferings of women and children. This is rediculous.

Posted by: 6thsense79 | September 16, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Conservative politics at its finest. It doesn't matter if anything changes; just make it look like you did something.

Of course, sexual advertising will just move to other free sites without restrictions. Potential customers and vendors will find each other in minutes with Google.

Posted by: ian807 | September 16, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

This was such an idiotic decision. There were pressured after hysteria groups launched their nonsense campaigns for the purpose of further criminalizing prostitution, porn and everything else that they don't like.

Posted by: revbookburn | September 16, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

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