Is Craigslist Money Suitable for Human Trafficking Prevention Charities?

Frederick Melo reports on The Usual Suspects blog at TwinCities.com that a local charity, The Advocates for Human Rights, has rejected a $25,000 donation from Craigslist because Craigslist is considered a venue for human trafficking.

This is an interesting position for The Advocates for Human Rights to take. While it certainly isn’t deniable that people involved in human trafficking may choose to use Craigslist as an advertising venue, that’s not exactly the same as Craigslist endorsing the behavior.

I wonder if The Advocates for Human Rights considered how law enforcement, in 2010, goes about identifying individuals and organizations that are involved in human trafficking?

I think The Advocates for Human Rights would be willing to admit that no one from Craiglist is directly smuggling humans, holding them against their will, and selling them for sexual services. Craigslist is the world’s most popular online classifieds site, which means that it sees ads for just about anything anyone could consider selling.

Has The Advocates for Human Rights considered where law enforcement turns when they attempt to crack down on human trafficking these days?

A service that makes it easy to advertise the services of trafficked humans happens to also make it relatively easy for law enforcement to identify the people or organizations placing the ads.

To place an ad, a person requires both an email and a credit card. Craigslist also uses SMS to cell phone numbers for further verification in some categories. With that in place, figuring out who’s behind an ad isn’t exactly rocket science, should the cops decide to pursue cases. Since this type of business involves two people meeting, simply picking up the phone to arrange a meeting is enough for law enforcement to get a feel for who’s involved and possibly where they’re working.

Considering how large Craigslist is today, and how familiar law enforcement is with the service, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Craigslist is the #1 source used by law enforcement to track and crack down on human trafficking in the United States today.

I wonder if The Advocates for Human Rights has considered what the alternatives to Craigslist are when it comes to prostitution advertising? If Craigslist completely removed every category that could conceivably be used for advertising the services of trafficked humans, would human trafficking be reduced? Of course not. It would simply move to other advertising venues, both online and offline.

Craigslist has a reputation for cooperating with police who pursue cases of human trafficking. Can the same be said for the other advertising venues used by human traffickers, such as alt-weekly magazines, yellow pages, and any of the other popular online classifieds sites?

So Craigslist collects contact information on potential human traffickers, along with up to $5 – $10 per ad that human traffickers place 1., cooperates with law enforcement when they’re working on cases, and attempts to donate the money they’ve brought in to organizations that work on human rights issues2., only to have their donations rejected and press releases issued explaining that they’re a bad organization.

Consider this for a second: If The Advocates for Human Rights just happened to be in charge of Craigslist, with the power to make any changes they wanted to Craigslist’s services, would they choose to turn off access to the contact information of sex traffickers and the revenue they provide? Wouldn’t The Advocates for Human Rights be in a stronger position to influence human trafficking around the world if human traffickers were handing over their contact information to them on a daily basis, and actually paying to do so? If they turned off the ads, they would no longer have access to the human trafficker’s contact information, or collect revenue from those traffickers that could be used against them. Instead, the human traffickers would immediately turn to other competing ad platforms outside of The Advocates for Human Rights’ control to promote their illegal services.

No, there is no black and white answer to issues like this, but it seems to me like The Advocates for Human Rights turned away a $25,000 opportunity to allow an organization that’s trying to do the right thing to actually do it. I hope that a different organization interested in preventing human trafficking, and in need of additional revenue3., will take Craigslist up on the offer.

1. If you’ve never taken a look at the Adult Services category on Craigslist, here’s a not safe for work link. The ads I see do not appear to be advertising legal services in all cases, but the vast majority do not appear to be advertising the services of people against their own will. I point this out simply to illustrate that, while human trafficking is a very serious issue, this type of press tends to overblow the reality of the issue on Craigslist.

2. Craigslist’s Charitable Fund focus areas are:

* peace and disarmament
* supporting US military veterans
* human trafficking and child exploitation
* social justice and civil liberties
* health and the environment
* journalism and new media
* sustainable transportation and energy
* clean water, poverty, and other developing world issues
* homelessness and other urban challenges
* education, and disadvantaged youth

3. The Advocates for Human Rights seems to be a fairly well funded organization with the backing of some of Minnesota’s largest law firms, so turning down a $25,000 donation may have been easier than it would be for other organizations working in this field. They wouldn’t receive the type of funding they receive if they weren’t a competent organization, so this isn’t meant as a slight. To me, it just provides some additional perspective on why they may have made the choice they did to turn down $25,000 from an organization with similar goals (and interesting revenue sources).




How the Government Saved Backpage.com

Some state attorney generals bucking for a promotion have been attacking a website, Craigslist, that allows people to advertise items and services they sell for free. Apparently, that’s okay unless the thing the seller wants to sell is their own body.

Craigslist has caved to some of the AGs demands, including shutting down their notorious erotic services category.

Clearly, that didn’t make prostitution go away, so what’s the fall-out? Have the AGs put an end to (or even slowed down the popularity of) prostitution, thus earning Puritan credibility and a a shot at a run for governor among puritan voters?

Here’s what I see:

1. People looking to sell themselves on Craigslist will shift to other categories, polluting non-sexual services classifieds categories with innuendo-laden ads.

2. Some sellers will shift to other sites that continue to provide a platform for erotic advertising, such as CityPages.com’s backpage.com site.

3. Non-Craigslist publishers will profit from the changes. Check out how flaccid Backpage.com’s traffic (the brand used by Village Voice Media for their largely sex-populated classifieds) was before Craigslist dropped their erotic services category:

Backpage.com Traffic Trend

Backpage.com’s traffic got a double shot of Viagra when Craigslist stopped providing a venue for free advertisements. This also provides some perspective on how much of backpage’s traffic is sex-industry driven compared to garage sale announcements. To drive home how sex-dependent Backpage.com is, here are the top-10 non-branded (terms that include company names) search terms that drove traffic to Backpage.com over the last month according to Compete.com:

1. shemale escorts in nj
2. craigslist
3. buffalo escorts
4. revolving tradelines
5. latinas massage in houston
6. raleigh gfe
7. dallas classifieds
8. seattle escorts
9. facebook of sex
10. www.escorts in mass

(What’s up with New Jersey?)

Backpage.com, unlike Craigslist, has been in the business of profiting from prostitution by charging for ads in their various adult classifieds categories for years. They’re also less discrete about their classifieds offerings, search engine optimizing their way to the #1 position on Google for many city-specific escort searches:

Minneapolis Escorts - Backpage Optimization

Looking for escorts? Backpage.com profits from being a classifieds gateway while Craigslist provided the same service for free. Why state attorney generals decided that Craigslist is the enemy isn’t entirely clear.

Strangely, the actions taken by many of our country’s state attorney generals may lead to Craigslist profiting from prostitution as well. After shutting down their erotic services category, they opened up a new adult category where they charge for ads. Since November, they’ve charged advertisers for ads placed in their erotic services category but gave the money to charities designed to help people get out of the industry. However, as I understand it, that doesn’t apply to the newly formed category.

If the AGs goal was to actually help people working in the sex industry, they could have simply called or emailed the people advertising on Craigslist. But that would involve social work, which probably isn’t a priority of the attorney general’s office, where they’re more interested in looking for criminal angles rather than social problems.

It seems like the state AGs have whacked a mole on this one.




Sex Industry Co-Ops

A group in Vancouver, BC is soliciting government funding to start a co-op for sex workers. The idea is to start a brothel where sex workers would receive training in non-sex related work when they’re not busy turning tricks:

Federal government refuses to fund sex worker co-op | Straight.com

Susan Davis, cofounder of the West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals, explained that her group wasn’t seeking funding from the Co-operatives Secretariat to start a brothel. The group submitted a proposal to Ottawa in June 2008

With a proposed budget of $194,247, the co-op intended to start enterprises like catering, publishing, consulting, and arts production as early as the first quarter of 2009. One co-op objective is to provide workers with skills that they can use if they choose to leave the sex trade.

I could see where the government may shy away from something like this, but the idea actually sounds pretty good. Get close to people who are trying to get out of the industry in order to help them.

Minneapolis is ahead of the curve on the sex co-op scene. Midwest XXX, at 207 Washington Ave North, is an employee owned adult video and toy co-op.

Impact of Craigslist Charging for Erotic Services Ads in Minneapolis

As of November 7th, Craigslist has begun charging advertisers to advertise in the Erotic Services section of their classifieds website. This particular section has a rep for attracting ads for services that fall outside the bounds of most state laws. In the past, that hasn’t stopped Craigslist from letting the community self-police the ads, but under pressure from 40 state’s attorney generals, they have introduced a charge of $5 per post in order to validate the identity of service providers. Craigslist plans to donate income generated from the posts to charity.

Here’s a look at the Erotic Services post volume by day over the past 8 days (in blue) with post volumes of the CityPages’ comparable category and Craigslist’s Therapeutic Services categories included for comparison:

Impact of Craigslist Charging for Erotic Services Ads (Minneapolis)

Friday over Friday saw the following change in post volumes:

Craigslist ERS	 -62.54%
Craigslist THS	  61.82%
Backpage Adult   192.86%

Short term results:

Post volume is down in ERS, but it may just be a reduction in duplicate posts throughout the day. If that’s the case, the site may have become more valuable to service buyers since there will be less duplicate content to sift through. That was the result after a previous change to require registration before posting to certain categories including Erotic Services.

Post volume is up in Therapeutic Services, and seems to include some new entrants who used to post to ERS. Try searching by the phone numbers of the more flirtatious of the advertiser’s ads using Google to find their previous ERS ads.

Backpage is benefiting. The CityPages’ online classifieds seem to be picking up some of the castoffs from Craigslist. Who knows if this will continue? Will Backpage become the posting site of choice? As Greg pointed out in the comments on a similar post regarding this issue back in April, Backpage has already been charging advertisers (and doesn’t give the money charity) so I imagine the service providers will figure out over time which site – or some other site – brings in the most leads for their money. Strangely, Backpage charges less for male escort ads than female escort ads: $3 vs $5.

Update: A dominatrix in Seattle has some interesting thoughts on this issue on her blog.




Is There an RNC Bump in Escorts?

Is the RNC extravaganza driving an increase in the local escort market? The Pioneer Press took a look at the subject a couple days ago by looking at how many ads specifically mention the convention. That didn’t turn up much. However, I think the location used by escorts may be enough of a signal. Here’s a look at the daily ad count for ads in St Paul:

craigslist_st_paul_escort_ads_by_day

Looks like a bit of a lift to me. Saturdays seem to be consistently the most busy.

Of course, there could be other factors such as people running out of money near the end of the month, so they turn to additional revenue sources like this for the last week.

In this particular case, I have a feeling that more of the business being done in the sex trade is probably going through higher-end sites and agencies rather than Craigslist.




Phallic Kids Straws?

Rocket, Sex Organ, or Just a StrawAccording to WSAZ News in Charleston, WV, a Kentucky woman took offense when she suddenly spotted something phallic heading toward her 3 year old daughter’s mouth. Wow, that sounds really dirty.

Apparently, Wal-Mart was selling straws in fun shapes including a shape that could be mistaken for a somewhat undersized erect penis.

A woman named Denise mentions in the comments that, had they been packages in holiday wrapping, could easily be considered bells rather than balls.

The poll on WSAZ asking readers whether they see a child friendly shape like a rocket or a “male sex organ” (seriously, the organ has other important uses as well) is currently running 2:1 in favor of kid-friendliness. Of course, put in the hands of a bachelorette party at Drink (the original fun bar?) and you could probably flip those results.

Wal-Mart handled the situation well. They said they meant no harm and offered the woman a refund. They also pulled the straws while they determine whether they’re worth carrying in light of the press this product has received.

Thanks to Cariann for sending this in.

Girl’s Guide to Giving Head

I ate dinner with a group of friends in Vancouver the other night in the front window of a tapas restaurant. While grazing on various dishes, a homeless guy kept walking up to the window with various things he’d stolen from neighboring businesses. This included potted plants, small jewelery, and this book:

Girl's Guide to Giving Head

After a couple glasses of wine, we found this particularly funny. What kind of book on giving head has a cover image like that?

I hopped outside to take a closer look. Strangely, the book was filled with religious poetry.

If you’re looking for books more suitable to the title, check out:

Tickle His Pickle: Your Hands-On Guide to Penis Pleasing
Naughty Tricks and Sexy Tips: A Couple’s Guide to Uninhibited Erotic Pleasure
Over 100 Truly Astonishing Sex Tips [ILLUSTRATED]

Diablo Cody’s Nude Pictures . . .

Are not found here.

Apparently, there are a lot of celebrity sex photo obsessed people on the Internet today googling for pictures on Juno screenwriter and Oscar winner naked.

Who would do something like that?

Does it really come as a surprise that someone with a blog called Pussy Ranch, who’s worked as a stripper, would have had a lens pointed as an exposed nipple?

And why are people so obsessed with celebrity photos?

Also how big a celebrity do you need to be before your nude photos are worth discovering? Just look at the lack of traction Gene Simmons’ sex tape has received. I this a gender issue or hotness factor?

I blame Tonya Harding for all of this.

via Rex

“Sex is Fun” isn’t Fun for Minnesota Family Council

Julio Ojeda-Zapata ran a profile piece in in the Pioneer Press about a locally produced (Stillwater) sex advice podcast called “Sex is Fun” that included the following from one of the podcast participants:

‘Sex is Fun’ podcast’s candid information proves popular

Jade, though a “Sex is Fun” fan and sometime participant, fears a backlash in personal and school circles (she and Kaper have two young kids). Sex “is one of those topics that really is taboo” among some, who “react harshly to it,” the 34-year-old believes.

Not surprisingly, Jade’s take proved accurate based on the example response Julio posted to his blog from John Hemlberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council:

I’m not sure which concerns me more: what SiF’s popularity reveals about how “pornified” we’ve become, or Pioneer Press giving it undeserved respectability with this article, devoid as it is of any moral judgment. If the subject requires a parental warning, maybe it’s not suitable for adults either.

I think it’s pretty awesome that Mr. Hemlberger managed to avoid using the term “Sex” in his letter, yet used the term “pornified” which, frankly, is a porn related term I wasn’t familiar with. I Googled “pornified” and found out that there is a book by that name for people who are interested in porn but are too afraid to look or listen. Oddly, that reminds me a lot of the right-wing’s perspective on the Iraq war.

Here’s a snippet of a review of “Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, And Our Families“:

For those who aren’t into porn and don’t want to be, this book is a helpful education. [Pamela] Paul manages to tell us what’s really going on in porn without forcing us to walk hip-deep into the muck.

Don’t you dare look. Your eyes may explode. Ms. Paul will look for you and tell you what she sees.

Paul also makes it painfully clear that the kind of porn so easily accessible via the Internet today is nothing like the old Playboy centerfolds (which could be characterized as Hugh Hefner’s endlessly adolescent fantasies).

Painfully clear? It sounds like Ms. Paul provides some titillating (did I just say, “tit?”) descriptions of the dark side of the web’s red light district.

My search for “pornified” also brought up a site called PORNification that explains how to pornalize movie names. For example:

The Nutty Professor becomes The Slutty Professor
Cold Mountain becomes Cold Mountin’
Analyze This becomes Analize This

Here are my contributions:

Knocked Up becomes (um) Knocked Up
XXX becomes (obviously) XXX
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider becomes (too easy) Lara Croft: Womb Raider

The PORNification dude is pimpin’ a book too.

BTW, Monday’s Sex is Fun episode mentions that they were just interviewed by the newspaper.

And they discuss having 30-Day Sex Challenges . . .

Condoms Should NOT Contribute to Fun

Ariel Waldman has an interesting story on networks banning a commercial that infers that condoms can be used for safe sex, but not just safe sex: safe sex . . . for the fun of it!

Apparently, that doesn’t jive with FOX & CBS’s values:

Pigs prohibited from promoting pregnancy prevention

Allegedly, the reason why the condom commercial was banned was due to the fact that Fox/CBS refuse to air ads that promote pregnancy prevention, and will only feature spots that focus on the (turnyourheadandcoughMALEcough) “health reasons” alone.

How dare a condom company promote safe sex when trying to sell condoms. Next thing you know, bike helmet companies will be promoting . . . biking . . . to sell helmets.