Craiglist Decision Is Good News for Trafficked Girls

Last weekend Craigslist removed its “adult services” category on its U.S. website, sparking a range of reactions from feminists, including anti-trafficking activists, anti-prostitution activists and sex worker rights activists. I’m sympathetic to the concerns being expressed, particularly skepticism about whether this change will really make much of a difference. But in terms of one basic goal–delegitimizing the rampant commercial sexual exploitation of minor girls in the U.S.–the change on Craigslist is a victory.

As I described in my recent article in the summer issue of Ms., the campaign to persuade Craigslist to remove ads selling girls began in 2007 when Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin wrote an open letter to Craigslist’s CEO Jim Buckmaster, asking him to stop taking advertisements selling girls for sex. In May of 2009, under pressure from attorneys general in several states, Craigslist eliminated the “erotic services” section of its website, replacing it with “adult services” and requiring those posting ads to pay a fee. The website also promised to review each ad to ensure minors were not being sold and vowed to cooperate with law enforcement investigations.

But last spring a Schapiro Group study [PDF] sponsored by the Women’s Funding Network (WFN) showed that Craigslist ads were still selling hundreds of girls. Another recent WFN study of sex-trafficked girls in New York, Michigan and Minnesota showed the same. Advocates for commercially sexually exploited girls like Rachel Lloyd of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) in New York, A Future. Not a Past. in Georgia, and, among others, continued to pressure Craigslist to remove the “adult services” section of the website.

In August, 17 states’ attorneys general wrote an open letter [PDF] to Jim Buckmaster and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark asking them to remove the “adult services” section because their manual reviews had not reduced “obvious solicitations.” Craigslist complied last week.

Craigslist’s deletion of the “adult services” section will not stop the sale of girls—other websites will certainly pick up the slack, and some ads have simply migrated to other areas of Craigslist. But it does force buyers to face the reality of what they are doing when they have to go to a seedy website or drive the streets to find girls instead of finding them on a respectable, mainstream website under an “adult services” tab. And maybe that reality will dissuade them. It may also make it harder for women and girls, lured by the myth of easy money, to fall into the destructive world of selling illegal sex, as one woman described on

Anti-trafficking groups are applauding the removal of the “erotic services” section from Craigslist, although sex worker advocates will surely find this development problematic for women who were willingly selling sex on Craigslist. The problem is that the commercial sexual exploitation of girls is nested in the adult sex trade, a major finding in a 2005 study in Atlanta, “Hidden in Plain View” [PDF], so it’s hard to go after one without affecting the other.

I am uncomfortable with the government telling consenting adults what they can do sexually, but I am appalled by the commercial sexual exploitation of underaged girls, the trafficking of adult women and female objectification represented in the sale of women’s bodies. Therefore, I think it’s a good thing that girls and women will no longer be openly sold side by side with bicycles, cars and stereo systems on Craigslist.

Photo from user acloudman through Creative Commons License 2.0


  1. Amanda Brooks says:

    Don't congratulate yourself just yet. The numbers of sexually-trafficked teens on CL has never been proven to be huge. The number of consenting adult sex workers on CL were the driving force behind the Erotic/Adult Services section. All that has been accomplished is muddying the waters between real victims and consenting adults. Sex trafficking existed before CL and will continue to exist. The most common activity associated with preventing sex trafficking is the wholesale arrest of consenting adults — which doesn't save any victims (arrest doesn't do a good job of finding them, much less saving them).

    The Shapiro Group's survey of selling teens via CL is also flawed:

    There are much more constructive ways to have spent the money and energy devoted to this one website. A huge difference could've been made in the lives of many. But it wasn't. Last I heard, the two girls who claimed to have been trafficked via CL haven't had the satisfaction of having their exploiters arrested. I'd rather have that any day of the week than shutting down a website section.

  2. And the website still creates problems for job searchers trying to find legitimate job opportunities. So many opportunities which are posted are nothing more than scams. Wading through those to get to the 'good' ones is amazing.

  3. Cherlyn Granrose says:

    Even if the number of Sex trafficking children is not greatly depressed, the life of any woman of any age can be given more freedom of choice if ways of selling women for sex by men is curtailed. I support freedom of expression but not at the expense of harm to other men and women who may be forced to perform sex for money against their will.

  4. I disagree with most of this post, and I was especially annoyed with that Salon article, as I discussed in a recent post of my own:

  5. How "huge" do the numbers of sexually-trafficked teens need to be to justify closing the "Erotic/Adult Services section?"

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