Craigslist stuns child advocates

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New details are out about the child sex trade in Georgia.  An estimated 7,200 men are paying for sex with teenage girls every month in this state, according to a study called “Men Who Buy Sex with Adolescent Girls: A Scientific Research Study.” Highlights came out in May, but the full study, released Thursday, sheds new light on the crisis.

While state leaders and advocacy groups are trying to get hold of the problem, it appears no one is more concerned about the report than Craigslist, the online classified ad giant.  Craigslist attorneys have sent a Cease and Desist letter to the Women’s Funding Network, a national partner of the Atlanta campaign called A Future Not a Past, which commissioned the study.

The legal warning letter alleges the Women’s Funding Network defamed Craigslist, and distributed false information about the company, by releasing highlights of the Georgia study.  The study claims “Craigslist is by far the most efficient medium for advertising sex with young females; ads on this site received 3 times as many responses compared to identical ads placed on other sites.”

A spokesman for both the Women’s Funding Network, based in San Francisco, and Atlanta’s A Future Not a Past campaign were shocked by the Craigslist demand letter, which arrived June 7.  In response, they sent Craigslist the full study yesterday, and asked for a sit-down meeting.  They say Craigslist declined.

AFNP Campaign Director Kaffie McCullough tells us, “I hope they will look seriously at this research. “ McCullough, who is a therapist by background says, “The problem I see with Craigslist is it allows the buyers looking for a girl to do that in a way that seems very normalized and legitimate.”  She adds, “We need corporate and private citizens to say it’s not okay for men to buy sex from children.”

Craigslist has not responded to our request for information.  CEO Jim Buckmaster blogged about human trafficking on May 11:

“we’ve vastly improved our approach to the point where an adult service ad submitted to craigslist today relating to an underage person…would be rejected by our reviewers, with an immediate report submitted to law enforcement, allowing the victim to be rescued, and the perpetrator to be removed from society.

“Human trafficking and child exploitation are utterly despicable and horrendous crimes, absolutely beyond the pale. While quite rare on craigslist, any ad on our site in facilitation of such an unspeakable crime is completely unacceptable, and we will continue to work tirelessly with law enforcement to ensure that any such victim receives the assistance they deserve and that anyone responsible for such a crime is imprisoned.”

This is not the first time Craigslist has been criticized for running illegal sex ads.  Two years ago Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin wrote a letter asking Craigslist to avoid running ads that promote child prostitution.  In May 2009, Craigslist responded to complaints by closing its Erotic Services section and starting an Adult Services section.  Two weeks ago, Rep. Jackie Speier (D- CA) called for a congressional hearing, and called on the company to shut down the Adult Services section.

The Atlanta-based study, conducted last fall by the Schapiro Group, is also called the Georgia Demand Study, because it seeks to answer the question of who is creating the demand – Who is buying sex with underage girls?   Researchers posted fake ads and took calls from hundreds of potential johns, then questioned the men for their survey.

McCullough says, “This is a business. Girls are the supply.  It’s a supply and demand issue.  We want to bring down the business.  If there were not a demand, the girls would not be exploited.”

Beth Schapiro from the Schapiro Group would not discuss whether Craigslist has sent her a letter, too.   She does say the most important parts of the study are the numbers.

  • 12,400 men pay for sex with young females each month;  7,200 of them end up having sex with underage girls.
  • While many men were not looking for sex with teenage girls, close to half were willing to go through with the transaction even after they found out they would be hooking up with someone under 18.
  • Commercial sex exploitation is not just a city problem.  Men responded to ads from all over metro Atlanta, including the suburbs.
  • Researchers found 9% of customers were near the airport, fueling a theory that travel and tourism play a role in sex trafficking.

Researchers conclude that there is no way to stop the sex trade, so advocates should try to educate and encourage men to avoid teenagers when they pay for sex.

Read more:

“Men Who Buy Sex with Adolescent Girls: A Scientific Research Study”

Craigslist blog

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