• Officials Say Craigslist Still Hosts Sex Ads
  • August 27, 2009
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Some two months after Craigslist said it would work to eliminate sex ads from its classified ad Web site, law enforcement officials claim that the site continues to post listings by prostitutes.

    In response to criticism and adverse publicity generated from the fatal shooting of a woman who placed an ad on the site, Craigslist announced in May that it would replace its “erotic services” category—along with the most graphic photographs—with an “adult services” category. Craigslist also pledged to prescreen all submissions to the new section and charge a fee.

    Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart sued the San Francisco-based company earlier this year, calling it the country’s biggest source of prostitution. Dart’s lawyer said Craigslist’s lawyer told him the changes would moot the lawsuit and suggested Dart drop it. But Dart says that sex is still being sold on the site and suggests that Craigslist could do more to clean up its act. He says he will continue to pressure the site to do so.

    Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster countered Dart’s charges. “The citizens of Cook County would arguably be better served if their sheriff spent his time addressing actual crime, rather than using the courts to generate personal publicity,” he wrote in an e-mailed statement.

    Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is also pressuring Craigslist to provide information about its monitoring and screening practices, including how many monitors it uses, their qualifications, and the kinds of ads the site rejects. Blumenthal said Craigslist has responded to his requests, although he would not elaborate on what the company has told him. He added that a coalition of 40 attorneys general was weighing its options and expects to announce its next move shortly.

    Craigslist also has a lawsuit pending against South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster for allegedly violating its employees’ constitutional rights by threatening to prosecute prostitution-related ads.
    McMaster has asked a federal judge to dismiss the company’s complaint against him, arguing that “Neither Plaintiff nor the users of its websites have a constitutionally protected right to post such advertisements.” In May, McMaster gave Craigslist ten days to remove ads for prostitution and pornography from its South Carolina Web sites or face possible charges. McMaster said subsequent changes by Craigslist were not enough and he still intended to charge executives with aiding and abetting prostitution if an ad led to a South Carolina prostitution case. After demanding an apology, Buckmaster sued McMaster.

    Why it matters: Buckmaster and Craigslist argue that threats of prosecution violate employees’ constitutional rights to free speech and personal liberties, and that Craigslist is unfairly being singled out for prosecution among the myriad of Web sites containing similar material. Government officials counter that, by knowingly hosting listings selling prostitution, Craigslist is aiding and abetting a criminal activity.