Craigslist Crackdown: 40 Attorneys General sign on to demand policing, mandatory credit card records for Erotic Services — UPDATED

In a move to appease law enforcement, Craigslist announced today that they will limit Erotic Services postings only to those who can pay a fee with a valid credit card. This comes several months after Craigslist changed their Erotic Services ad policy to require a valid telephone number in order to post.

Under the watchful eye of law enforcement in 40 states, Craigslist pledged Thursday to crack down on ads for prostitution on its Web sites.

As part of Craigslist’s agreement with attorneys general around the country, anyone who posts an “erotic services” ad will be required to provide a working phone number and pay a fee with a valid credit card. The Web site will provide that information to law enforcement if subpoenaed.

Craigslist has also agreed to sue 14 software and Internet companies that help people who post erotic service ads to circumvent the Web site’s defenses against inappropriate content and illegal activity.

Connecticut State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who demanded last March that Craigslist remove all Erotic Services postings, was behind the push. This seemed laughable at the time — especially given Craigslist’s agnostic stance on their Erotic Services section. So what’s going to change, for Craigslist and for sex workers?

The first problem I see is, by accepting payment for Erotic Services ads, Craigslist goes against their previous statements that they did not profit in any way off of possibly illegal prostitution services. (UPDATE: The credit card fees collected are, according to a statement from Craigslist, to be donated to “charity.” Which ones?) The move to make credit cards mandatory now may seem like it protects minors in prostitution, by creating a paper trail back to the person who placed the ad, or, more likely, by deterring those who would place ads in the first place. Craigslist has also maintained for quite some time that they will cooperate with law enforcement’s requests for information about who places Erotic Services ads, but now legal names and addresses will be on file with them and ready to hand over to vice, immigration, and others.

This could be an ideal moment for public health officials to intervene with Craigslist and make clear that giving sex workers arrest records only further harms them. From what little I have spoken with Susan Best, Craigslist’s PR head, and Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist’s CEO, I know they would personally be receptive to this message, even if, as businesspeople interacting with the law, they cannot advance it. But we can. We can go to our allies in local departments of public health and ask that they approach those 40 state Attorney Generals. We can demand that we have a role in addressing the harms — as we see them.

Really, these changes in Craigslist posting rules seem more like an extension of NIMBYism — keep those prostitutes off my screen — and less like true regard for the well-being of sex workers. If that’s the case, Craiglist Erotic Services is being policed as tightly, if not more, as street prostitution. Which makes sense — when the ads were free, anyone could place one. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’ve followed Craigslist closely, there were always more ads for women of color on Craigslist than on other escort sites like Eros-guide, Cityvibe, or Lovings. What does that say about the enforcement of prostitution laws?

It’s not too late. We can hold Craigslist to a standard that reflects our community, too. We can demand a role in this regulation. We can explain why this will only push violence and harm further underground. Let’s start here:

States that signed the agreement include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam also joined.

California — Craigslist’s own home state — did not sign. But who do we have as allies in labor, public health, and even law enforcement in the other states here? Could we draft a response letter to the 40 Attorney Generals who have signed?

17 Responses

  1. Craigslist, the New Third Party Bosses: Now craigslist is extorting money from erotic service providers on behalf the center for exploited children? In considering espu’s next move, deal with these third party bosses has long been a high priority. We didn’t agree to this. Laying down these new barriers, tools of capitalize for the poverty class to profit off of us with no mutual benefit to us??? Oh hell no! If we are going to pay for ‘fees’ we need to be paying them to ourselves so we can benefit. That money needs to be going into our PAC for our rights not paying craigslist so they can turn over our information to investigate us for crime and extorts money from us.

  2. Where’s your anger for the state Attorneys General? The local and state law enforcement? Craigslist has resisted taking $$ for these services for ages. I know it’s infuriating. But we can’t face Craigslist and expect them to respond reasonably — and they have proven to be allies in the past — if we yell at them. They’ve said the money will go to charity. We could demand to know who.

    It is screwed up, though, that sex workers shell out so much money for online advertising — which is why so many turned to Craigslist in the first place. Eros, Cityvibe, Lovings, Backpages — they all make a buck off of us. The Erotic Review, MyRedBook, all the review sites that take membership fees, too. Craigslist didn’t take sex worker money for a very long time.

    Something reversed on the enforcement side and they crumbled — and used this whole credit card thing as leverage. But if we act strategically, we can maybe get some answers & correct this.

  3. All of those lawyers are going to be loosing their jobs soon with the new administration turn over, though I don’t expect anything different from the new batch.

  4. I think the biggest point missed here is that this isn’t going to lead to greater arrests of “ERS” girls… It’s going to lead to all manner of independent providers no longer using cragislist to set up dates… Which means dealing through the far scarier paid escort ad sites, possibly becoming managed, etc… That’s just going to lead to more lives damaged, more escorts extorted ala the “TER” days, etc.

    I thought craigslist stood for better than that, but i guess anything to avoid a fight, yeah?

    On a related note – Do you think this will spark a rise in the use of prepaid credit cards? If a John can just give over a $200 card, and the sex worker can then activate and use that to get around the craigslist thing, so much the better.

    And what’s Craig going to do with that charity money? It better all go toward sex work reform law and health protections for workers.😛😛😛

  5. Fenston,

    I don’t think a prepaid credit card would be considered a valid credit card according to the new rules. Unless perhaps sex worker has the prepaid card registered in his or her name.

  6. All the bbbj gfe escorts doing unsafe no condom activity and the fake pimps aka simps and thugs who exploit children or use force have messed the biz up. Real pimps don’t mess with kids and it is by choice not force with a aduly woman and a real pimp does not allow his woman to kiss or do bareback with any client so there is no diseases spread. But these women who hate on real pimps 70% of them do unprotected oral sex and kissing spreading std’s giving LE the fuel to crackdown on the biz. We need to run all the bbbj women out of the game and any goon or thugs who forces women ino to the biz or exploits minors. The 5$ fee will keep a lot of the crackheads of craigslist, plus people won’t post 30 times a day may-be 2 to 6 times at the most. So this might wind up being a good thing.

  7. From a letter from a friend: “If the ads on Craigslist are legal ads, which they are, it’s unconstitutional for them to force Craigslist to require anything about the identity of who placed them. Further, what the DAs are doing is extorting Craigslist to obtain information for them which they can’t get legally, which is illegal. Finally, it’s a waste of taxpayer money to chase people who want to engage in consensual sex when there are unsolved crimes against property and people in their jurisdiction. Their priorities are clearly misplaced.”

    Here in Vegas when a huge prostitution sweep was going down recently, apparently two people were brutally assaulted, and amazingly, there were no police around to help… ‘Cause prostitutes are a greater danger to our community than those who would bash someone’s head in, I guess. Priorities?

  8. Fenton,

    Paid ad sites aren’t any scarier than CraigsList, nor does it lead to anyone being “managed” if they don’t want to be “managed.”

    Oh, and TER is still alive and well. But TER and paid advertising has very little connection. A worker can participate in one without the other. Workers on CL also have to deal with the TER issue.

    The right prepaid credit card can be set up in a name other than your own and no one knows the difference.

    However, the issue isn’t HOW this is going to be paid, it is certainly WHY it is suddenly neccessary.

    XX

  9. This is an interesting issue. I hadn’t considered the arrest record angle before. It certainly makes sense that it would be harder for someone to eventually find work outside the industry if they have a record following them. And I doubt that’s a deterrent.

    I took a look at the post-volume change in Minneapolis pre & post CC verification and found that it decreased ERS while increasing THS and posts on Backpage. Problem solved? Not really.

  10. existentialhedonist, on November 8th, 2008 at 5:43 am Said:
    “Finally, it’s a waste of taxpayer money to chase people who want to engage in consensual sex when there are unsolved crimes against property and people in their jurisdiction.” Our work will always involve obtaining the amount of money being spent and how many unsolved assaults against us and the rest of the world. NO justice no Peace/peice

  11. In my opinion – what CL has done is going to make it harder to find runaways and sex trafficking victims – not easier. I don’t know about you – but before it was easy to spot the ads of the girls who looked underage and the ads from girls who did not look too happy to be there. I read the newspapers just like everyone else – this bust here and that bust there. I’ve also been watching closely how our government has been spending money to so call “help” these victims. If anything – it seems totally counter productive. I’ve watched closely what the trafficking organization in Vegas has done for the actual victims. They spent $9000 to host a luncheon for Shared Hope to come speak to a few people – but when asked to donate some of the money they had budgeted for direct outreach to actually do an outreach – they agreed the money had not been spent – and then refused to spend a single dime on it. This is no different – any one who knows how these pimps work knows they’ll just stay off CL now and put more girls out on the streets. Forcing them onto the streets is going to make it 100 times harder to find them. I guess when they can’t find any victims is when they’re going to call the problem solved. Using their logic – the problem is going to be solved when they are all dead.

  12. Whats with the credit card. All someone has to do is go to kroger and get a secured card. It has no name or anything but can be used as a credit card to post on CL

  13. […] Craigslist Crackdown: 40 Attorney Generals sign on to demand policing, credit cards mandatory for Er… […]

  14. […] of regulations to govern their Erotic Services sectiosn nationwide that advocates for sex workers (myself included) have decried as discriminatory, short-sighted, and inneffective at preventing abuse. Now […]

  15. This is a whole SCAM by the government. They are just made because none of the girls who post, pay any taxes so the GOVERNMENT tells craigslist to charge us before they shut down the whole wesite. So if we paid taxes they would leave us alone. How are we commiting a crime!!!!! We are two adults and nothing in life is free, so what i charge. I cant go to the doctors office for 30 minutes without getting charged 1,000 dollars.So you cant come to me and for 30 minutes for free. We help alot of men and soem marriages. We keep couples alive and everybody happy. We are the reason why some men go home to their wives and smile. Money talks and bullshit walks dont be mad because we make as much as the politicians ad pay nothing.

  16. Nilay,

    More than one person has proposed that part of the recurring arrests, fines and court costs on street-based sex workers is nothing more than a tax. Interesting idea that the CL thing is a tax.

    Regardless, it IS collecting information of the sex workers who advertise there and that is very dangerous to them.

    Many sex workers do pay taxes — it’s not hard to file taxes as a sex worker. The general stereotype is that sex workers don’t.

    XX

  17. […] ads in the adult category. Well that makes me feel so much better. Because requiring sex workers to fork over their credit card information in order to post an ad wasn’t […]

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