September 16, 2010

The False Victory over Craigslist, the Great “Sex Trafficker”

Causes, Feature, Vitals 2 Comments

The false victory ove Craigslist, the great "sex trafficker"

I browse Craigslist personals on a regular basis, as a way to check the pulse of sex here in Los Angeles. Over the past few days, I have noticed an increase in the number of ads that suggest a monetary exchange for sex. This shouldn’t be surprising, as two weekends ago Craigslist self-censored the adult services section of the site after a long and drawn out battle with government and law enforcement officials, and activist groups, which culminated in 17 attorneys general writing an open letter to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster and founder Craig Newmark:

The increasingly sharp public criticism of craigslist’s Adult Services section reflects a growing recognition that ads for prostitution — including ads trafficking children — are rampant on it. In our view, the company should take immediate action to end the misery for the women and children who may be exploited and victimized by these ads. Because craigslist cannot, or will not, adequately screen these ads, it should stop accepting them altogether and shut down the Adult Services section. Read the entire letter…

The shutting down of this section, in my opinion, and the shift in focus to other sites to achieve similar results is a huge error that will not only not help the dire situation faced by sex trafficking victims, but endanger men and women who are involved in sex work by choice or non-coerced necessity.

As Melissa Gira has pointed out, people involved in sex trafficking will not cease their activities because this avenue is closed off. As I mention in the beginning of this post, listings for adult services are already starting to appear in other sections of Craigslist — in sections that do not require payment for postings, meaning there is no paper trail to follow for law enforcement.

While opponents of Craigslist may shake fists screaming about how Craigslist profits from sex trafficking, it is important to remember that the system of payment for adult services was instituted to create a record. As Gira points out in another article:

The records Craigslist maintains on its users played a critical role in apprehending the so-called Craigslist Killer. The Boston Police Department reported that “Craigslist was cooperative in identifying and locating” accused murderer Philip Markoff; Craigslist spokeswoman Susan Best notes that “a digital trail left by those breaking the law” allows Craigslist to support criminal investigations in a way, say, a newspaper cannot. In the case of Markoff, what could have become a series of murders was put to a quick halt once his inbox was examined. Boston cops said they relied on these “high-tech” solutions as much as “shoe-leather” investigation. The lesson here for those in law enforcement — and a lesson that Richard Blumenthal fails to understand — is that Craigslist is an ally, not a perp.

Danah Boyd at the Huffington Post agrees, suggesting that shutting down the section will push these activities underground where it will be far more difficult to address these issues:

The Internet has given law enforcement more data than they even know what to do with, more information about more people engaged in more horrific abuses than they’ve ever been able to obtain through underground work. It’s far too easy to mistake more data for more crime and too many aspiring governors use the increase of data to spin the public into a frenzy about the dangers of the Internet. The increased availability of data is not the problem; it’s a godsend for getting at the root of the problem and actually helping people.

… Censoring a space may hurt the ISP [Internet Service Provider] but it does absolutely nothing to hurt the criminals. Making a space uninhabitable by making it risky for criminals to operate there — and publicizing it — is far more effective. This, by the way, is the core lesson that Giuliani’s crew learned in New York. The problem with this plan is that it requires funding law enforcement.

Censoring Craigslist has moved these activities to locations within the site where there is no paper trail, making it hard for law enforcement to crack down on perpetrators. Continued pressure to remove these sorts of sites will result in moving these activities underground where law enforcement will have an even more difficult time addressing the wrongs suffered. As Boyd writes on her piece in the Huffington Post:

Taking something that is visible and making it invisible makes a politician look good, even if it does absolutely nothing to help the victims who are harmed. It creates the illusion of safety, while signaling to pimps, traffickers, and other scumbags that their businesses are perfectly safe as long as they stay invisible… Censorship online is nothing more than whack-a-mole, pushing the issue elsewhere or more underground.

Another problem I have with this issue is the lack of transparency on the part of a lot of so-called trafficking advocacy groups that are actually more concerned with silencing the discussion, exploration and expression of sexuality than they are with addressing the plight of sex trafficking victims. The crime, in their agenda, is prostitution, and they don’t hesitate to use the word trafficking even in the case of consensual prostitution.

Now, while prostitution is a crime in most all states where these ads existed on Craigslist, the site is protected by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states, in short, that no provider of a site or internet service shall be treated as the publisher of any information provided by said site’s or service’s users, even if a tort is committed. With nothing to assist them on the legal front, the word “trafficking” starts being thrown around.

I have written in the past about organizations such as Citizens Against Human Trafficking who have gone after not only sex worker activists, but sex educators, in such a way as to occasionally alienate their own supporters. Bringing trafficking into the picture, nevertheless, can and is an effective way to silence anyone who disagrees that prostitution is inherently evil.

Ignorance on the topic and the willingness of people to exploit this lack of information in pursuit of sex-negative goals or political gain results in inaction as a result of semantics or very dangerous legislation that affect all victims of slavery.

E. Benjamin Skinner, author of A Crime So Monstrous — an expose about modern day slavery in various forms — has been a vocal advocate of the necessity of not only differentiating between consensual prostitution and sex trafficking, but also giving the same amount of attention to other forms of slavery, often overshadowed by sensationalism surrounding accounts of sex trafficking:

“The West’s efforts have been, from the outset, hamstrung by a warped understanding of slavery,” he says in A World Enslaved:

In the United States, a hard-driving coalition of feminist and evangelical activists has forced the Bush administration to focus almost exclusively on the sex trade. The official State Department line is that voluntary prostitution does not exist, and that commercial sex is the main driver of slavery today.

[...] Many feel that sex slavery is particularly revolting — and it is. I saw it firsthand. In a Bucharest brothel, for instance, I was offered a mentally handicapped, suicidal girl in exchange for a used car. But for every one woman or child enslaved in commercial sex, there are at least 15 men, women, and children enslaved in other fields, such as domestic work or agricultural labor.

Recent studies have shown that locking up pimps and traffickers has had a negligible effect on the aggregate rates of bondage. And though eradicating prostitution may be a just cause, Western policies based on the idea that all prostitutes are slaves and all slaves are prostitutes belittles the suffering of all victims.

Skinner wrote that piece two years ago before the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 replaced the loose definitions of its predecessor. The U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, the most recent of which came out in June, now highlights the difference between prostitution and sex trafficking, saying: “Prostitution by willing adults is not human trafficking regardless of whether it is legalized, decriminalized, or criminalized.”

The inability to see the differences between these two things thwarts federal resources set aside for identifying, freeing and protecting actual victims of slavery, because they become diverted with matters of consensual prostitution, which should be handled by local law enforcement as necessary, and which, though a crime in most places, is nowhere as severe as slavery of any kind.

As a society we need to see the censoring of Craigslist as an infringement on our freedom of speech; a threat to law enforcement efforts that once relied on the paper trail to combat the abuse of minors, trafficking and other criminal activity on those boards; and the criminal posturing of politicians looking for an easy fight during an election (yes, that means you, Richard Blumenthal).

How many of you people who are so up in arms about the exploited have marched with the Student/Farmworker Alliance? Boycotted Burger King when they refused to pay an extra penny for tomatoes so that consumers could ensure no debt peonage came a the expense of their burgers? How many know what the Coalition of Immokalee Workers does?

“No one really cares about Mexican dudes working in kitchens,” said sex educator and sex worker activist Audacia Ray in a recent interview with sexuality netcast KinkOnTap. She’s right. They don’t.

Well, here’s a chance to change that. Read this. Listen to this. Stop obsessing over the prurient details and look around you. There is always something you can do, something real. Something that actually helps instead of dividing people and hindering the efforts of those who are really fighting this battle.

AV Flox

Your humble editrix-in-command.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook

Facebook

Add our page on Google+!

Keep up with everything we're covering right in your stream. Please note this page is limited to users 18+.

Featured

Gamers Won’t Be Seduced, Will Stare At Random Cleav Instead

That Steam allows the objectification and sexualization of female characters in a variety of its games but refuses to accept a game about actually engaging with women in a more interactive fashion is astonishingly backward.

FetLife Is Not Safe for Users

That the site doesn’t take measures to protect user content and has shown incompetence or negligence in regard to user privacy, all the while prohibiting victims from warning others about predatory behavior creates an environment where it is nearly impossible for members of the community to take care of themselves and one another. By enabling FetLife to continue espousing a code of silence, allowing the spinning self-created security issues as “attacks,” and not pointing out how disingenuous FetLife statements about safety are, we are allowing our community to become a breeding ground for exploitation.

Why You Should Vote No On Prop 35

Should people who benefit (parents, siblings, children, roommates!) from the earnings of “commercial sex acts” (any sexual conduct connected to the giving or receiving of something of value) be charged with human trafficking? Should someone who creates obscene material that is deemed “deviant” be charged as with human trafficking? Should someone who profits from obscene materials be charged with human trafficking? Should people transporting obscene materials be charged with human trafficking? Should a person who engages in sex with someone claiming to be above the age of consent or furnishing a fake ID to this effect be charged with human trafficking? What if I told you the sentences for that kind of conviction were eight, 14 or 20 years in prison, a fine not to exceed $500,000, and life as a registered sex offender?

Pretty and Calls Herself a Geek? Attention Whore!

If you are a woman, you might be given a chance to prove yourself in this community. Since there is no standard definition of what a “geek” is and it will vary from one judge to the next anyway, chances of failing are high (cake and grief counseling will be available after the conclusion of the test!). If you somehow manage to succeed, you’ll be tested again and again by anyone who encounters you until you manage to establish yourself like, say, Felicia Day. But even then, you’ll be questioned. As a woman, your whole existence within the geek community will be nothing but a series of tests — if you’re lucky. If you aren’t lucky, you’ll be harassed and threatened and those within the culture will tacitly agree that you deserve it.

Cuddle Chemical? Moral Molecule? Not So Fast

Zak’s original field, it turns out, is economics, a far cry from the hearts and teddy bears we imagine when we consider his nickname. But after performing experiments on generosity, Zak stumbled on the importance of trust in interactions, which led him, rather inevitably, to research about oxytocin. Oxytocin, you might remember, is a hormone that has been linked previously to bonding — between mothers and children primarily, but also between partners. What Zak has done is take the research a step further, arguing in his recent book, The Moral Molecule, that oxytocin plays a role in determining whether we are good or evil.

How to Avoid Pissing off a Stripper

Let’s talk about the strippers. Whether they like to be half-naked or not, whether they enjoy turning you on or not, there’s one thing they all have in common: they’re working. Whether you think that taking one’s clothes off for money is a great choice of career is really beside the point (is it a possibility for you to make $500 per hour at your job without a law degree? Just asking). These women are providing fantasy, yes, but that is their job. And as a patron of the establishment where they work, you need to treat them like you would anyone else who provides a service to you.

Masthead

Send us news!

Editrix-in-Command:
AV Flox

In-House Theologian:
Robert Fischer

Eros and Desire Scholar:
Dawn Kaczmar

Scientific Consultant:
Jason Goldman

East Coast Liaison:
Jackie Summers

Arch-Nemesis:
Barbie Davenporte

Read about the contributors we've had over time on our staff page.

Follow SAT405 on:
Twitter
Facebook

RSS

Hosted by (mt)

About

Sex and the 405 is what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

Here you’ll find news about the latest research being conducted to figure out what drives desire, passion, and other sex habits; reviews of sex toys, porn and other sexy things; coverage of the latest sex-related news that have our mainstream media's panties up in a bunch; human interest pieces about sex and desire; interviews with people who love sex, or hate sex, or work in sex, or work to enable you to have better sex; opinion pieces that relate to sex and society; and the sex-related side of celebrity gossip. More...