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September 10, 2010

Child Prostitution: Craigslist has nothing to do with it.

Let me start with this: I’ve dedicated a portion of my life to finding criminals on the internet, and have worked with both local and federal law enforcement to help catch child predators. Child Prostitution and Sex Slavery is a plague on the human race that needs to be eradicated completely. Recently 16 State Attorney Generals made what seemed to be a positive step in asking Craigslist to better police their adult-services section to prevent child prostitution. Their desire was that the adult-services section be completely shut down because they accused the site of being complicit in allowing advertising for these services to be allowed an in theory assisting in the exploitation of children. This claim against Craigslist, is ridiculous and worse, changes the focus from the real issues surrounding this issue and attempts to blame a technology for the actions of pedophiles.

It’s important in this debate to clear the air: we are not talking about prostitution in general, with its own set of complaints, its own moral and political issues. The 16 Attorney Generals who took on Craigslist specifically brought up the most horrific of crimes, the forced prostitution and rape of children. They made general claims that Craigslist.com was a cesspool of child prostitution, that there were thousands of advertisements available on Craigslist.com every day that made children available sexually to predators for money. While I applaud the Attorney Generals for finally paying attention to the issue of Child Prostitution in this country, they are taking the easy way out, focusing on a company that has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue to make headlines.

The problem with the claims of the 17 Attorney Generals is that they are only grounded in press spin. While Craigslist does have advertising for prostitution, so does hundreds of publications, online websites, and magazines in this country – and the Yellow Pages. Their basis is that one can go online and see a virtual cornucopia of child-sex advertising. While I know that there have been some cases on child prostitution on Craigslist.com, an overwhelming amount of the sex-based advertising is that of consensual services between adults. Most of the claims of law enforcement and the media are based on a few real cases, but mainly on the claims that certain “keywords” signified child prostitution. When the press releases and media reports say that they found “thousands of ads on Craigslist.com promoting child prostitution” they are basing this on a very incorrect assumption.

This assumption is simple: that every advertisement that says “young”, “barely legal”, “fresh” and a dozen other keywords, are advertising child prostitution. Law Enforcement looks for these keywords and then mark that advertisement as a suspect “child prostitution” advertisement. For investigative purposes this is very, very important – but it does not make a real situation of child-prostitution. Remember, companies like Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and many porn magazines promote “barely legal” in their magazines, videos, and websites all the time. There is 4.5M results on Google for “barely legal” for porn sites, should we assume that Google is promoting child prostitution? If we are to really want to blame anyone for the seemingly great appetite of some men in the United States for “barely legal” women, we should be blaming the porn companies which promote this type of porn with photos of women in pigtails and school skirts.

Dr. Lois Lee, one of the heading experts in forced prostitution of Children, seems to agree with me. She told me that “Blaming Craig’s List for child prostitution is like blaming Alexander Bell for providing the telephone.” Instead of making real steps in the fight against sex-slavery, the Attorney Generals have gone after the technology, almost like there are Neo-Luddites who look at a computer and complain that it’s evil, causing people itself to get on the internet and search for evil things. The problem in this Country with child prostitution has nothing to do with Craigslist anymore than drug dealing has to do with prepaid cell phones. Most child prostitution doesn’t even occur on the internet, but on the streets, with organized gangs, with poor populations who can’t protect themselves. The real issues are much deeper and have to do with a broken child protection system that allows runaways to fall through the cracks, with parents not monitoring their children’s whereabouts, with the issues of uneven prosecution against the victims instead of the johns. By blaming Craigslist we remove the needed focus on the real issue of catching these criminals, the reasons child-prostitution occurs, and what is really wrong with our society as a whole. On top of that, if there are cases of child prostitution on Craigslist, we are removing one of the best tools in catching these criminals. Craigslist.com is involved with preventing these ads, forwarding them to law enforcement for investigation – without this, many of these guys will go back to peddling on the street again, making it much harder for them to be caught.


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