Digital News Report- When you think Craigslist, what’s the first thing to pop into your mind? Job opportunities? Cheap furniture? Personal ads? How about prostitution? According to the Polaris Project, a group against human sexual trafficking, Craigslist is now the single largest source of prostitution in the country.
The Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, has filed a lawsuit against Craigslist and is seeking an injunction to prevent further erotic services ads from being posted on the site. The lawsuit will also award compensatory and punitive damages and reimbursement for the more than $100,000 in costs incurred policing prostitution-related crime over the past year.
“The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office monitors craigslist,” said Chief Deputy Marty Bilek. “We need to know what’s going on there… Consenting adults are having sex all the time. That’s not illegal, but what is illegal is paying for it.”
Sheriff Thomas Dart stated that Craigslist also had more than 2,800 listings for child prostitution and that Chicago was among the top ten cities on that list. “Missing children, runaways, abused women and women trafficked in from foreign countries are routinely forced to have sex with strangers because they’re being pimped on Craigslist,” he said.
“We arrested numerous juveniles over the last two years,” Dart said. “What we found is that they weren’t advertised as juveniles in most of them. We walk in to hear: ‘You want a juvenile? We got a juvenile. You’ll have to pay more but we have her for you.'”
Connecticut Attorney General Richard wrote a letter to Craigslist last March stating uring them to police its users postings. “I am astonished and appalled by Craigslist’s refusal to recognize the reality of prostitution on its Web site — despite advertisements containing graphic photographs and hourly rates, and widespread public reports of prostitutes using the site,” Blumenthal wrote.
However, the lawsuit may not be as cut and dry as it first appears to be. “Craigslist will have a very strong argument that Section 230 preempts the case,” said Matt Zimmerman, an attorney with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act states that publishers are immune from state tort lawsuits based on material posted by users.
A spokesperson for Craigslist said, “Misuse of craigslist to facilitate criminal activity is unacceptable, and we continue to work diligently to prevent it. Misuse of the site is exceptionally rare compared to how much the site is used for legal purposes.”