Censoring sexual services ads on Craigslist

J-Bro sends me this article, which argues that removing sexual services ads from Craigslist is exactly the wrong thing to do:

If you want to end human trafficking, if you want to combat nonconsensual prostitution, if you care about the victims of the sex-power industry, don’t cheer Craigslist’s censorship. This did nothing to combat the cycle of abuse. What we desperately need are more resources for law enforcement to leverage the visibility of the Internet to go after the scumbags who abuse. What we desperately need are for sites like Craigslist to be encouraged to work with law enforcement and help create channels to actually help victims. What we need are innovative citizens who leverage new opportunities to devise new ways of countering abusive industries. We need to take this moment of visibility and embrace it, leverage it to create change, leverage it to help those who are victimized and lack the infrastructure to get help. What you see online should haunt you. But it should drive you to address the core problem by finding and helping victims, not looking for new ways to blindfold yourself. Please, I beg you, don’t close your eyes. We need you.

9 thoughts on “Censoring sexual services ads on Craigslist

  1. That line of argument assumes that law enforcement is trying to combat nonconsensual prostitution, stop sex trafficking, and stop the exploitation more generally of vulnerable women and children within the sex industry.

    A few weeks ago, I happened to catch an interview on NPR with one of the attorneys general involved in trying to get Craigslist to take down these ads; unfortunately, I don’t even remember what show I was listening to, much less have a link or the name of the AG in question. He made it very clear that his primary goal here was to stop prostitution, whether it was exploitative or not. As I recall, the interviewer even asked about cases where an individual supplements their regular income with a little extra sex work, requires clients to use protection or uses protection themselves, has complete control over who they accept as clients, and so on. The AG said that this was still clearly prostitution and his job was to stop it.

    I don’t want this thread to turn into a debate over whether or not there is non-exploitative sex work. My point is that there’s reason to think law enforcement isn’t interested in that distinction, nor in prioritizing exploitative sex work.

  2. That is a good point, DH. I’m always shocked by the hypocrisy of these groups that go around spewing Dworkin in the name of “protecting” sex workers, and when they’re asked to let the sex workers speak for themselves, they say things like “nobody wants to hear from them”. Yet they still continue to soak donations from the public for “charitable” work that has the exact opposite effect of the stated goal; a goal that’s forced on women without their input or their consent. Who are the pimps and rapists here anyway?

    As paternalistic as Attorney General whatsisface is, his honesty is refreshing. Unlike the hesitation I experience when I’m compelled to call Andrea Dworkin a traitor (she and MacKinnon did pass some groundbreaking and empowering legislation in the 80’s–and it’s hard to be that crass toward a spousal abuse survivor) I find it easier to call a man what he is when he doesn’t bullshit about his intentions. And Attorney General whatsisface is a misogynistic moral absolutist with his head up his ass.

    Thanks for this one, J-Bro. The author’s argument for stopping censorship/full legalisation of the trade is the best argument I’ve heard yet.

  3. DH, Is Mr. Moral Absolutist’s name Richard Blumenthal? He’s on cnn.com. with his letters and his political agenda right now.

  4. (Blumenthal is currently well-known in the US for claiming that he had served in Vietnam when in fact he was a member of the Reserves – which the UK posters would call the Territorial Army – and never left the US.)

  5. It wasn’t Richard Blumenthal, it was AG Chris Koster of Missouri. There is a transcript of the interview here:


    My personal impression is that AG Koster does not come across in this interview at all as a “misogynistic moral absolutist with his head up his ass”, nor as particularly paternalistic.

    He seems to be concurring (at least in principle) in Melissa Block’s distinction regarding victimization; he ventures that while not every case creates a victim, there are far too many that do. When I listened again to the interview, it put me in mind of Danah Boyd’s statement from the article linked in the opening post: “There is little doubt that this [Craigslist ‘Adult Services’] space has been used by people engaged in all sorts of illicit activities, many of which result in harmful abuses.” On this, Boyd and AG Koster agree; they disagree on the likely impact of Craigslist’s dropping its Adult Services ads.

    It does bear repeating that AG Koster is under a duty to enforce his state’s laws against prostitution (just as the residents of his state are bound to obey them). But even if the anti-Craigslist effort has the effect of lumping together exploitative and (for the sake of argument) non-exploitative activities, it would be a mistake to infer that the AGs don’t grasp degrees of exploitation – or that patterns of investigation, prosecution and sentencing don’t reflect the prioritization of gross exploitation in the sex trade.

  6. Thanks, Nemo! That is, I’m quite sure, exactly the story that I heard.

    Consider this response in particular:

    That’s right. I mean, every single ad that we see on this site, on this link, is not creating a victim. But there are far too many that do, and if you go through any town in America, certainly any town of any size, you’re going to see a large number of ads that would certainly appear as advertisements for prostitution.

    Here he’s agreeing with Block’s distinction. But he goes on to say that this distinction doesn’t matter because either so many of Craigslist ads do involve exploitation or he’s only concerned about prostitution as such, not exploitative prostitution. So even if he accepts the distinction between exploitative and non-exploitative prostitution, he’s not going to, for example, focus on exploitative prostitution while letting non-exploitative prostitution slide.

  7. Well, you’re right about that Dan. But then again, AG Koster was only referring to the grounds for pressuring Craigslist to drop the Adult Services section. Since it is arguably impracticable to screen out ads connected to exploitative prostitution but leave intact ads connected to non-exploitative prostitution (assuming for the moment that there is such a thing), I don’t think the interview or his stand on Craigslist provides a clear indication of the relative priority (or parity) his office accords to the investigation/prosecution of exploitative versus non-exploitative prostitution.

    And since it doesn’t cost his office any extra effort to get non-exploitative prostitution ads off Craigslist along with the exploitative ones, why would Koster care in this particular instance – even if non-exploitative prostitution is a low priority for him? After all, Koster’s constituents, through their legislators, have determined that it is in the public interest to have a blanket prohibition on prostitution. He quite rightly points out that people engaged in non-exploitative prostitution in his state are not entitled to be doing so in the first place, so it’s not surprising that he rejects Block’s implication that the distinction, to the extent it exists, is (or should be) material to his decision on Craigslist.

    As I’m writing this, and upon second or third review of the interview, the possibility occurs to me that AG Koster might have slightly misinterpreted Block’s comment. Block was suggesting that not all prostitution advertised on Craigslist necessarily involves victimization. Koster *might* have been expressing his agreement with a different proposition, namely that not all “Adult Services” advertised on Craigslist necessarily involve victimization because not all of them involve prostitution. So he might believe that prostitution does necessarily entail victimization – it’s not 100% clear from that brief exchange.

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