Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart
filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against electronic message board giant
Craigslist in an effort to get it to remove the portion of its Web site
that he says is used almost exclusively to promote prostitution.
Craigslist was quick to respond that it routinely
cooperates with law enforcement agencies and issued a statement saying
"we work diligently to prevent" misuse.
"Misuse of the site is exceptionally rare compared to
how much the site is used for legal purposes," the statement said,
adding, "Regardless, any misuse of the site is not tolerated on
It went on to list 18 steps the site takes to try to
prevent abuse, including telephone verification as a requirement for
posting "erotic services," blocking ads with potentially inappropriate
language, and a variety of notices aimed at warning against or
preventing human trafficking. Guidelines posted at the site warn
posters not to state or imply trading sex for money or post nude
However, a quick tour of the site plainly showed those
instructions weren't working, with women posting fully nude pictures
and hourly rates in their ads. "DROP DEAD GORGEOUS BLONDE $100 All
inclusive - 19 (Schaumburg)" boasted one ad.
Dart contends the site hides behind the First
Amendment, knowing it is being used for prostitution but winking and
contending the site is for something else.
"There's no mystery. We all know what's going on here," said Dart.
Dart called Craigslist the "largest source of
prostitution in America" based on surveys of sex-trade customers who
indicated Craigslist as the main way they found prostitutes.
And while some may contend the site just facilitates a
business transaction between consenting adults, Dart says it just
promotes the misery and exploitation of women who are often abused by
"Like this is 'Pretty Woman,'" scoffed Dart. "This is not pretty stuff."
Dart says his officers often find juveniles when they respond to ads and show up to bust prostitutes.
Samir Goswami of the Chicago Alliance against Sexual
Exploitation said a recent study of 200 prostitutes by a DePaul
professor found that about half of all prostitutes have a pimp, and of
those, about three-fourths said they would face harm if they didn't
give their pimp a cut of the money earned.
"This meets our federal and state definition of human trafficking," said Goswami.
Ads in the "erotic services" section on Craigslist used
to be free, Dart said. In recent years, under an agreement with 39
attorneys general, Craigslist has agreed to charge $5 for "erotic
services" ads and donate the money to groups that aid those caught up
in human trafficking.
Dart says he believes the service continues to allow
the "erotic services" ads because they are the biggest
traffic-generator for their site, allowing Craigslist to charge
handsome rates for other legitimate ads.
Dart said criminal laws require a "closer nexus"
between the advertising forum and the pimp in order to charge
Craigslist with a crime. So instead, he is pursuing a civil suit that
alleges the service is a public nuisance and is aware its activities
are causing destructive consequences. Dart said he has been trying to
negotiate with the site for two years, to no avail.
The suit seeks an injunction ordering Craigslist to
remove the "erotic services" portion of its site and compensation for
all the resources the sheriff has spent dealing with the site.
Site: Suit seeks removal of 'erotic services' ads