If you're looking for love in all the wrong places, Craigslist is still in a position to help. The online ad machine, founded by Craig Newmark (right), vowed to get rid of its red-light district two months ago, by taking the "drastic" step of changing its "Erotic Services" section to "Adult Services." The site also said it would screen ads to ensure that they aren't for prostitution. But Tom Dart, sheriff of Cook County, Illinois (which includes Chicago), says nothing has changed.
In May, the Craigslist erotic-services section drew considerable unwanted attention in the case of the "Craigslist killer," in which several Boston-area homicides were linked to the erotic-services section of the classifieds website; police believe the killer found his victims on Craigslist.
Since then, Craigslist has come under scrutiny (and attack) from law-enforcement officials around the country, who are pushing to get the company to drop this section of the site.
Dart has sued Craigslist (which projects it will pull in $100 million this year), saying that the site's Adult Services category reflects little change from its previous Erotic Services label. In fact, it may have made the advertisers more brazen. Although the photos still feature "scantily clad women" who wear far more than the average July sunbather, the ads themselves have become more direct.
A recent brief, unscientific survey of New York-area adult services ads revealed that most have a message along the lines of: I have a hot sexy body & I'm looking to meet right now & will be avail until 9am. Plus I have friends. Such ads' intentions seem transparent but it's impossible to prove that anything illegal is being advertised. But in one ad, a poster named "Bianca" gets to the point: "credit cards welcome."A "beautiful and sweet Russian baby" offers "my relaxxxing bodyrub session." Snowbunny asks, "ARE U READY 2 PLAY??? ... IM AN AFTER HOURS CHIK WHO LUVS 2 PARTY. I CAN CATER THE THE PARTY ALSO." And, this is mild. Some ads go so far as to actually quote prices; one Dakota Starr advises, "Call for more details... $200/30 *** $250/60."
The C.E.O. of Craigslist, Jim Buckmaster, calls Dart's lawsuit a "publicity stunt" and suggests that the sheriff is merely wasting his county's resources. Craigslist claims that the change in the section's name -- along with the $10 fee it charges, and the site's screening of the ads -- Buckmaster believes, will give Craigslist sufficient control over the material. Dart says he remains unconvinced that the site has made an effort to make a meaningful change.
Dart is not alone in viewing Craigslist's Adult Services ads as problematic, nor in believing that its recent measures are insufficient. A coalition of 40 attorneys general around the U.S. is considering options on how to apply pressure to Craigslist and may announce a course of action in the coming week. Until then, Dart is continuing to fight Craigslist with more traditional police methods -- stings and arrests -- according to USA Today.