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Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008 02:11 am

Net games

Attorney General partners with craigslist to clean up online erotica

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In Springfield, a city that hasn’t exactly embraced craigslist, an online classifieds community, there were 54 “women4men” postings in the erotic services section earlier this week.

Complete with graphic photographs, these ads feature everything from 25-year-old women promising to “spend some intimate time with you in exchange for a fair donation” to 46-year-old women charging “1/2 hour = 125 roses, 1 hr = 200 roses.”

Due to an increase in these ads across the state — 7,097 posted last week in Chicago alone — and the country, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, along with 42 other attorneys general, partnered with craigslist and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to clean up the Web site’s erotic services section.

Scott Mulford, Madigan spokesman, says the initiative seeks to curb crimes like prostitution, pimping, pandering and sex trafficking. Many of these offenses are surprisingly obvious in craigslist postings, he says, while others are more concealed by code words used for sex or money.

“Unfortunately, some areas on the Internet have become a virtual back alley for traditional street crimes,” Mulford says. “In this case, we’re investigating the use of craigslist’s erotic services’ section for advertisement for prostitution.

“Although law enforcement can use these postings to make arrests, the goal is to deter these crimes from the Internet — it makes it all too easy.”

Under the new agreement, posters are required to provide the Web site with a working phone number and a valid credit card number, as well as pay a fee for each ad. Craigslist can then turn that information over in response to subpoenas from law enforcement.

Craigslist plans to take further steps in this direction by upgrading its flagging system so that inappropriate listings for prostitution or pornography can be identified and removed quickly by users. Special tags will also be attached to adult content to help parental screening software.

Bernie Carver, outreach coordinator for Positive Options, Referrals, and Alternatives, a nonprofit organization that assists former victims of prostitution, calls the action by craigslist and Madigan’s office a step forward. At the same time, he adds, law enforcement should also take a more active approach to stopping online prostitution.

“It’s the new aspect of prostitution that people don’t seem to care about — as long as it’s not on their street corner,” Carver says. “But people do get just as damaged from this as they do from street prostitution.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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