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Craigslist Criticism–Am I being too harsh?

23 May

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Craigslist Xes out sex ads
Without the erotic services section, where will sex workers turn for

Tracy Clark-Flory

May. 14, 2009 |

The World Wide Web’s most infamous red light district, and its array
of virtual window girls and purposefully miZspellD cuuum onZ, is being
shuttered. After relentless pressure by a team of state attorneys
general — not to mention the recent high-profile case of the
“Craigslist Killer,” who allegedly used the site to lure a woman to
her death — the classified service is eliminating its erotic services
section across all U.S. sites within one week. Its replacement will be
an “adult” area, where ads cost $10 a pop and are strictly screened
for illegal services. Until now, the site’s been the go-to advertising
channel for agencies that promote sex workers, and independent
prostitutes, especially those in the lower tiers. The question that
has to be asked is: Where will these women find johns?

“The streets,” says Robyn Few, co-director of San Francisco’s Sex
Worker Outreach Project. “The Internet took a lot of sex workers off
the street and created the entrepreneurial age of sex work. Now, it’ll
drive them right back to where they came from.” This is a terrifying
possibility for many providers: Screening clients from behind a
computer screen is inherently safer than working the corner. It also
allows workers to negotiate the “what, when, where and how much” of
the transaction without having to rush to avoid being spotted by cops.

Mariko Passion, who calls herself an “educated whore, urban geisha,”
predicts that some sex workers will take to the streets, but she
doesn’t expect a mass exodus. “Sex workers are smart” and will turn to
alternative free online services like Backpage and Redbook — but
those don’t command even a fraction of Craigslist’s audience size, not
to mention diversity. Scores of sites offer adult services
classifieds, but posting on many of them, like Eros Guide, costs a
pretty penny. In a number of ways, Craigslist was able to lessen the
class divide found in nearly every other shadowy corner of the sex

Passion, who lives in Los Angeles, advertises her services on
Craigslist and through agencies that also advertise for her on
Craigslist. (Anything to reach a larger audience and compete for
attention.) At $85, advertising in the L.A. Weekly is prohibitively
expensive, so she’s partnered with two agencies that spam the erotic
services section with ads featuring stock images of sexy girls. When a
client calls, the agency refers them to whomever is on-call and
available — no matter whether the girl in the original photo has
drastically different measurements, hair or even skin color — and
later takes a cut of the profits. As it is, she says, “you don’t have
control over how many calls you take and they throw you into dangerous
situations.” Agencies just might become increasingly reckless as they
become more desperate for business.

Workers are rattled by this seismic shift in the landscape, but there
isn’t a consensus on whether Craigslist — or, more specifically,
founder Craig Newmark — is the good guy (for resisting for so long)
or the bad guy (for ultimately buckling). Passion sneers that the
company has simply “caved once again,” while Tracy Quan, former sex
worker-turned-Salon columnist and author of “Diary of a Jetsetting
Call Girl,” is more sympathetic. “My heart goes out to the people at
CL who are being harassed by these cynical public officials. The
Craigslist witch hunt isn’t fueled by concern for the safety of sex
workers,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The way I see it, a cynical AG is
exploiting the death of a working woman to enhance his career. It’s a
cheap, easy way to add some sex to your political CV without taking
any of the risks associated with selling erotic services.” On a
similar note, Fews says that she doesn’t blame Newmark for giving up
the fight — after all, the “Craigslist Killer” coverage has “got to
be weighing heavily” on him.

Of course, there’s the irony: The campaign against the erotic services
section was buoyed by those frightening tabloid headlines — but, if
workers are forced from the virtual to the literal street corner,
it’ll only expose them to more danger.

— Tracy Clark-Flory