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Wednesday, May 13, 2009 01:02 am

Attorney General gets tough with craigslist

Erotic services section violates last year’s agreement

The Cook County Sheriff’s office in Chicago says this woman is charged with prostitution and is a victim of craigslist vertisers. She says she answered a modeling ad and wound up in prostitution.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan traveled to New York last week to deliver this message to craigslist chief executive officer Jim Buckmaster: remove your Web site’s erotic services section.

Madigan, along with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, notified craigslist’s lawyers that the online classifieds company breached an agreement made with 43 state attorneys general to crack down on prostitution and other sex crimes [see “Net games,” Nov. 26, 2008].

Craigslist permitted the free posting of erotic services ads until the November agreement forced the company to install a credit card system, charging posters $5 per ad and retrieving their personal information for law enforcement. The attorneys general also directed craigslist to actively screen for postings that contain pornographic images or language.

Even though craigslist implemented a credit card system, the attorneys general claim that the company has failed to identify and eliminate illegal ads. According to a letter Madigan sent to Buckmaster, dated April 27, her office has seen a 40 percent decrease in daily postings to the erotic services section in the last six months. But, she continues, “more than 400 ads are posted daily in Chicago alone, and the vast majority of ads blatantly violates even the most basic terms of use.”

Cara Smith, Madigan’s deputy chief of staff, told Illinois Times that the attorney general’s office coordinated with state advocates and law enforcement to initiate a “flag day” in January. Craigslist operates on a complaint-driven system, relying on users to flag, or mark, inappropriate ads. Smith says officials tested this method, flagging hundreds of erotic services ads. None of them were removed.

Madigan informed craigslist’s lawyers of these results and requested that the company send her office the following information: a detailed explanation of the company’s flagging system, the number of flags required to remove an erotic services posting, the number of Illinois erotic service ads flagged for removal in 2009 and the number of Illinois erotic service ads removed as a result of flagging in 2009.

The Illinois attorney general also asked craigslist to uphold another end of the deal. In the agreement, craigslist pledged to contribute 100 percent of the fees collected from erotic services postings to nonprofit organizations that serve exploited women and children. Since November, Madigan says in the letter, her office has identified more than 74,000 erotic service postings in Chicago alone. At $5 per ad, craigslist should have at least $370,000 to send to Illinois organizations.

“We asked for them to return to Illinois the money,” Smith adds, “particularly in these economic times when we have social service agencies…closing because of a lack of funding.”

Smith says the attorneys general hope to resolve their issues with craigslist within the month. Crimes continue to occur as a result of the Web site’s condition of anonymity, she says, with the murder of Julissa Brisman, a 29-year-old New York City woman who advertised massage services on craigslist, being one extreme example.

“Prostitution is not happening on the street corner,” Smith says. “It’s happening on Web sites.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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