Mixed views on Craigslist crackdown on hookers


Verne Kopytoff, Chronicle Staff Writer <mailto:vkopytoff@sfchronicle.com>

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A self-described sexy, open-minded hottie wants to “pamper your every
desire,” according to her ad on Craigslist. Miss Honey, another poster, says
she’s an eager and motivated bombshell with a beautiful bedroom.

Pressured by law enforcement, Craigslist launched a crackdown on
prostitution in May by promising to review adult ads. While largely stamping
out overt solicitations for paid sex, the new policy has prompted a
proliferation of more vaguely worded offers of good times, sensual massages
and overnight companionship.

By many accounts, prostitution hasn’t been eliminated on Craigslist. It’s
simply more discreet.

“Offers of sex for sale are now disguised – though their intent is
transparent,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who
plans to ask Craigslist to take more aggressive action soon.

Craigslist implemented its new guidelines amid criticism by various state
attorneys general, led by Blumenthal, who accused the company of operating
an online brothel. Clean up the ads or face a lawsuit, the attorneys general

Under its new policies, Craigslist staffers or contractors – it’s not clear
which – monitor adult ads and block those that solicit prostitution or
include graphic images. New adult listings cost $10, or $5 to be reposted,
payable by credit card only.

Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist’s CEO, said the new adult category is for legal
services only, including massages, exotic dancing and escorts – illegal
services are unwelcome.

Moreover, he said the strict standards ensure that the ads are tamer than
what’s routinely published in weekly newspapers, telephone Yellow Pages and
on other Web sites.

As for prostitutes masking their ads with vague language, Buckmaster said:
“We are no more able to read the minds of people placing ads than are
classifieds editors at newspapers and the Yellow Pages.”
Many arrests made
Despite the new policies, Craigslist remains a fruitful hunting ground for
law enforcement looking to arrest prostitutes and their clients. Recent
stings in Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina, among other states,
have led to dozens of arrests.

On a recent day, nearly 900 ads filled Craigslist’s Bay Area adult section
touting busty women, two-girl specials and sinful services. A handful quoted
their prices in roses per hour, code words often used for soliciting paid

Sheriff Thomas Dart of Cook County, Ill., expressed frustration with
Craigslist, which he sued this year in federal court over prostitution. He
complained that the number of prostitution ads hasn’t declined and that some
euphemisms for paid sex are slipping through.

“To say I’ve been less than overwhelmed by Craigslist’s new practices would
be an understatement,” Dart said.

Meanwhile, he assailed Craigslist for failing to disclose its monitoring
procedures, including how many people are doing the job.

“We don’t know if it’s a team of trained qualified staff or a summer
intern,” Dart said.

But even critics agree the crackdown has forced prostitutes to tone down
their ads. Nude photos are now rare, replaced by women in bikinis, for

Cara Smith, deputy chief of staff for the Illinois attorney general, said
she isn’t under any illusions about the difficulty of eliminating
prostitution from Craigslist. Rather than attacking Craigslist, Smith said
her office is taking a more cooperative approach by alerting the site’s
censors to ads that violate its guidelines.

Maxine Doogan, founder of the Erotic Service Providers Union, a San
Francisco group that represents sex workers, agreed that prostitutes are
easily circumnavigating Craigslist’s censors. But the new policies are
inconvenient, she acknowledged.

Sometimes prostitutes have to wait hours for their ads to be reviewed and
posted, making the scheduling of clients more difficult, according to
Doogan. She also complained about the price of the ads and the confusion the
vague language creates with clients.

“What does a good time mean?” Doogan said. “Does that mean I can sit and
talk with you? Is there lingerie involved?”
Working around ban
In some cases, sex workers avoid Craigslist’s adult category completely. To
save money and avoid the censors, they list themselves in the casual
encounters area or personals category, where ads are free.

“Law enforcement knows, as well as the general public, as well as
Craigslist, that you’re never ever going to be able to suppress
prostitution,” Doogan said. “It’s never worked and it’s never going to

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