CraigsList: Future Thinking

Assuming that CraigsList Adult Services stay down, where will everyone go? Granted, the majority of those in the business in the US aren’t advertising on CL anymore. But now civilians are enjoying the thrill of discovering what’s been online for the past 10-15 years and are publicly speculating what sites advertisers will flock to.

On the one hand, other advertising sites have been obvious all this time if you know how to use Google. The current public attention might help some girls get a little extra business in what I know is a sagging economy and a seasonally slow time of year (beginning of school). On the other hand, I’m very worried by the attention thrown at other sites. The motivation for this current state of affairs goes far beyond the usual cat-and-mouse game played by local cops. The anti-trafficking Nazis have one possible victory with CraigsList and probably feel ready to go stomping on any other site adult sex workers use.

Because it’s about ending prostitution. It’s not about helping victims.

A lot of other online advertisers require proof of age in order to post an ad. These sites comply with 2257 guidelines and are safe from accusations of child-trafficking. While I worry about an added focus on these sites, the reality is the anti-traffickers can’t do a damn thing about these sites without changing the entire structure of 2257 laws (which were originally created for the porn industry). We’re talking major time in courts – not a quick media-smear campaign like we just saw against CraigsList. This doesn’t mean that police won’t take a new look at these sites and conduct stings off them. These sites might be forced to allow authorities to look through the proof of age they’ve collected on their advertisers – part of 2257 law.

The anti-traffickers might also be tempted to get their hands even further into the legislative process and create stricter regulations around adult services advertising. If such a thing comes to pass, it’s going to create very odd circumstances: legally regulating prostitution without prostitution actually being legal. This would further expose workers to exploitation by the legal system with none of the benefits of actually being legal. It’s hard to imagine how this situation would help victims of any kind; very easy to imagine how it would create new victims.

To get around 2257 laws, some people use offshore web hosting. I wonder if the US will go so far as to ban offshore adult websites who allow adult services advertising? How much involvement is the government willing to invest in censoring the Internet over an issue (sex trafficking) that affects a minority of people? While we all know perfectly well that countries can do this (e.g. China), is this something America wants to do? Will Google start banning certain such terms in the US; terms that will allow adult service providers to be found?

The hideous irony that every online sex worker in the US already knows is that they’re sitting ducks for law enforcement. To find enough decent clients to make a living, providers must have a fairly trackable web presence. They have to be fairly aboveground and the more successful ones are well-established. They’re easy targets. The ostensible crackdown on sex traffickers simply drives the real criminals further underground and scatters them. Who’s going to be easier to find when police are forced to get their numbers of arrests up?

Despite the claims of enormous numbers of sex trafficking victims, we don’t have equally enormous numbers of exploiters arrested. There are many reasons for that: the most obvious being they’re not found and therefore not arrested. They may not even be sought. It’s much easier to run a sting and arrest a bunch of adult sex workers who need to make a living than take the time to investigate a sex trafficker.

There are also continual mutterings about CL Erotic Services in other countries. America’s military influence is felt worldwide, its morality has influenced international AIDS funding, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the anti-prostitution crusade influencing sex work in other countries. One blog post commented that the French Erotic Services section was still up. Apparently that poster failed to realize that prostitution is legal in France (brothels and pimping are not). US anti-traffickers have made efforts to influence prostitution law in other countries so it’s not a great leap of imagination for them to target all of CL’s Erotic Services sections. I don’t see them having victory in every country but one is more than enough, really.

The difference I’m feeling with this current attention thrown at CL is the obvious desire to shut down any and all prostitution, regardless of how the sex workers feel about it. Thinking about it too much makes me feel like a target. The attention has shifted from arrests of an activity made criminal by arbitrarily-enforced laws to something a lot more sweeping, with more political power, made much more palatable to the average Joe or Jane. There aren’t a lot of people capable of standing up and making arguments against the anti-trafficking terrorists. There aren’t a lot of people seeing the huge amount of grey in what’s presented as a black and white issue. The question is whether the antis are louder right now because they really do have more power; or are they the loudest person in the room because they’re the weakest? Surely they recognize they are not on the right side of this argument. Are they afraid everyone else will discover this too?

21 Responses

  1. It’s not about ending prostitution, Amanda. It’s simply about putting it back to where it used to be: out of sight and out of mind.

    Isn’t that right, Melissa Farley? Yeah, I’m talking to you.

  2. Susan,

    No, the antis have quite clearly stated that they do not think ANY woman should be in prostitution. Ever. Under any circumstances. This is about ending prostitution. They don’t care about how many people get hurt in the process.

    XX

  3. Well, Amanda, they’ve been attacking adult advertising for years now. It didn’t just start with Craigslist. Before that, they pressured many alternative newsweeklies into getting rid of their adult ads, and many did.

    It doesn’t seem to me that they would be so naive as to think by getting rid of advertising, they’re getting rid of prostitution.

    Unless of course, they are actually that naive.

  4. And speaking of newsweeklies, I can’t wait for the Village Voice to come out on Wednesday. They should be loaded down with ads because of this debacle.

  5. Susan,

    I’m aware of their attacks on other advertising. This issue is not a regional one, it’s no longer even contained to the US and its broken legal system. It has suddenly become much, much bigger. More worrisome. It’s a large public victory for them, bigger than RI.

    They’re not naive but they are smart enough to know that they can force an “end supply” by attacking advertising. Pointing out advertising venues also means higher rates of arrests, which discourages some sex workers (especially after their lives are ruined by an arrest). The antis’ goal is to end prostitution. The ends justify the means for them. After all, what do they really care?

    XX

  6. Yeah, I know they don’t care who they hurt. And they’ve hurt alot of people. But are they any closer to eliminating prostitution?

    Most of the antis have been trying to eliminate prostitution since the 70s, and they aren’t any closer then when they started. As a matter of fact, if they couldn’t eliminate prostitution in the 70s, then they certainly can’t now–now that it’s more open then it ever was.

    I really and truly hope they put the erotic section back up when the hype has died down.

  7. Great commentary, Amanda. It’s obvious to anyone paying attention the real emphasis is in attacking the practice of prostitution more than anything else. I wonder if Craigslist is serious about this shutdown because as the NY Times wrote, they make $44 million from revenue from adult ads. I doubt they are going to eat those dollars just because some state attorney generals whom are running for higher office like Rick Blumenthal in Connecticult are going after sexworkers.

    Whenever some ambitious politician starts going into the bedrooms of private citizens always consider if they’re doing so to protect the moral fiber of society or to advance their own careers.

  8. My experience with many of them is that they want to end all forms of the sex industry. Anything ranging from Hooters to high end escorts. They also want to end sex worker rights activism. It is important to recognize, they want more than just to end the sex industry. They want to silence anyone in it that speaks out. The prohibitionists believe they are waging war and aren’t fond of the idea of taking prisoners.

  9. At the UNIFEM conference (which had a huge anti-trafficking focus) there was a lot of moralizing speech against the “violence” inherent even in strip clubs (of which I have a lot of experience in). It was ridiculous. It felt like a church sermon or…propaganda. Women where standing up clapping enthusiastically to Swanee Hunt (big in the anti-trafficking movement) and I was stunned that so many women bought that crap. I was there for the Cambodian NGO and at the end of the two days felt like, if the women there truly knew my background, that they would have had zero interest in talking to me.

    The beacon in the darkness was a panel with Engender Health, IWHC and a professor behind Sex Policy Watch who, with reason, spoke up that gender is inherently not behind violence, that men experience violence too. The LGBT movement was brought up and as well as sex worker groups working together in India. The room seemed kinda silent (what’s this? they are not trashing men?) while I raised my hand and thanked them enthusiastically for their perpsective.

    Moral panics (which is what I’d rate this movement under) are powerful and can be very hard to sway, but I think it is possible.

  10. CL is US-based and is too main stream for the censor-loving politicians. In the long term, this will have absolutely no effect on the online sex industry it is simply moving them over to http://www.backpage.com and http://www.naughtyreviews.com . I notice both of those sites have received a serious influx since the banning of the “adult section” on CL.

  11. Ironically, Craig’s List (CL) could actually been trying to protest censorship by doing this. There’s a black bar that says “sensored” where the “Adult Services” section used to be. CL also hasn’t issued an official statement yet, which could also be a way of symbolizing how they’re being censored and unable to speak out.
    Even if the purpose of this is to make a powerful anti-censorship statement, I don’t agree with how CL is going about doing it because of the effect this has on independent sex workers who depend on CL to make a living. The stgmas, hatred, and oppressive laws against sex workers are what encourage violence, not CL. In order to stop violence against sex workers, people must address those issues rather than simply trying to villify CL.

  12. Susan,

    I’m not saying they have been successful. What I am saying is that they’re making it hard for people who depend on these sites for their living. That matters.

    Any illusion of success only encourages the antis. They don’t need any encouragement, IMO.

    Jacob,

    I’m really trying NOT to publicly name other sites. Girls on there are trying to make a living, not get arrested. Keep that in mind. Thank you.

    SWA,

    I agree with you on all points!

    Jeff,

    You need to read my other CL article. The ONLY reason CL even charges for the Adult Services ads is because they were forced to by these same AGs and antis.

    Michelle,

    Thank you for adding more to this. Do you write anywhere? I would LOVE to see more info about what you’ve seen in SE Asia — that’s one of the world’s sex trafficking hotspots (in all ways).

    You call it a moral panic. I’m going to get all FOX News and call it “terrorism.” :)

    XX

  13. @Jeff, the 44 mil number is wrong like the estimated # of victims is wrong. Most things written about anything connected to us by mainstream media is fraught with inconsistencies, false and misleading information.

    I spoke to the CL over the weekend..
    They literally have a gun to their head after these faux human rights groups violated the terms of use on their site by posting fake ads and then told the prospective clients that the person they’d be having sex with was under age and the client still agreed to show up…such is kinds of evidence they were facing in not one state but multiple states.
    Having to defend yourself in one state on criminal charges is horrific enough but multiple states was really unfathomable. And they were risking loosing the whole site because shutting down that whole site is really what the capitalist who are backing the state attorney generals wanted. The media capitalist are still angry about loosing so much classified revenue to CL, a non profit, the faux human rights groups were only used as the means…
    My guess is that the cronies capitalist won’t be satisfied and certainly the faux human rights groups are looking for their next kill.
    “‘Getting such ads removed from other sites is the next goal, said Malika Saada Said.
    http://enews.earthlink.net/article/top?guid=20100905/0d747993-5f9b-42fe-8ba3-2ef65d94a876

    All I know is that i’m not waiting around, i’m working on the next effort to rid myself and those around me of the chains that bind us.

  14. [...] Craigslist: Future Thinking on Bound, Not Gagged [...]

  15. Amanda,

    I one hundred percent agree.

    Maxine,

    You bring up a very important fact: Craigslist is being targeted because it takes away ad revenue from the media–who are then giving campaign money to the attorneys general. Well I have no sympathy whatsoever for said media. They are lying sacks of shit.

    I am a diehard fan of Craigslist. It’s because of Craigslist that our economy is still functioning for the past ten years after Bush and Congress drove it into the ground. People of all businesses, both adult and non-adult, have been able to advertise for free and reach a large clientele. People are able to sell their personal items on Craigslist. And we are able to obtain items for FREE by using Craigslist. We all would have been MUCH MUCH worse off economically if Craigslist had not been available for the past ten years.

    So yeah, I’m pissed off. As we all are.

  16. Hmm, ok, well, now I know why we got that credit back from Craigslist this month. Honestly, we both want her to retire, but I am not making enough money on my own to pay the mortgage and all our other bills.

    She has other places to advertise. Worst case scenario she goes back to some of the non-mainstream erotic services only sites (that also charge an arm and a leg) that should be well known to people here (yes, I’m not going to name them, but they are savvier about fighting these kinds of legal challenges since this is basically all they do).

    By the way, if anyone out there would like to hire a black 31 year old career call girl with a felony record for some very high paying straight job (mid-five figures, flexible hours, no heavy lifting), please let me know.

    I’m sure it will be a cinch to find something like that in this economy.

    She does not want to go back to the “modeling shops,” and the rough customers who run them, but she will if the alternative is foreclosure. ( I’d be ok with a foreclosure, myself, rentals ought to be cheap now and face it the dream is dead. She loves that house though.)

  17. Amanda,

    I don’t write anywhere but I’ve thought about blogging about my experience in the dancer industry (we call it entertainment industry like they do in Cambodia), the NGO field, grad school and my forray into the D/s world which has it’s own issues as well. So much to research and write about! You are inspiring me to start a blog as I really enjoy your writings and the writings here.

  18. I suspect both the CL and the ACLU are gathering together their fighting gloves and any other gear they need to fight this. The AGs won’t be caught completely flat-footed, but they might trip over some mighty long shoelaces. If nothing else, the AGs might be missing their mouthpieces and a couple teeth when this all ends.

    In the meantime, as in any other market when it hits a glitch, the savviest marketers will find other ways to get their message out (and continue in business). Those who have been getting by on mostly luck or convenience will fall by the wayside. The rest will continue, as they should.

  19. In the FFS category:
    http://humantrafficking.change.org/blog/view/gawkercom_tries_to_increase_sex_trafficking

    How come the Other Amanda gets PAID to write this tripe on a daily basis and no one here can?

    XX

  20. Thanks for this thoughtful piece Amanda. Fortunately there are other rational voices out there, like Jennifer Abel’s article in the Guardian. ” Craigslist isn’t now free of sex – you just can’t pay for it”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/sep/07/craigslist-sex

  21. Michael,

    We need rational voices in the US though. This is where it’s happening (for the most part). And we CERTAINLY need a rational voice over at Change.org.

    XX

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