Craigslist sex-for-sale ads may not return — but prostitution ads won’t go away, either

Posted by on Sep 5, 2010 in Craigslist, Personals

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Is Craigslist done carrying “adult services” ads?

Yes. And no.

We’re betting that this weekend’s stunt, placing a “censored” banner where the adult-services section was in the United States, will become permanent — even if Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster and founder Craig Newmark didn’t intend to terminate the prostitutes’ advertising hangout forever.

Peter M. Zollman

Peter M. Zollman

It would take an astonishing level of stupidity, and a good bit of risk, for Craigslist to reopen the adult-services section. And while it was projected to generate almost $45 million this year, the simple fact is that Craigslist’s two individual owners (Newmark and Buckmaster), and its corporate owner (EBay), don’t need the money. Reopening the section would generate an intense and immediate backlash from law enforcement officials, members of Congress, and the non-profit groups that have fought to close Craigslist’s prostitution section.

But as soon as Craigslist eliminated the “adult services” section, postings seemed to increase in its “casual encounters” section (based on a very limited review by the AIM Group). And the sexual overtones of those postings seemed even more blatant than before.

Consider:

— Even before Craigslist had an “erotic services” category, the precursor to its adult services category, lots of ads in the personals section and the casual encounters section were obvious solicitations for prostitution. With the adult-services category gone, Craigslist will most probably see immediate growth in personals and casual encounters, which don’t require credit cards, phone numbers or other identifying information from the people who post the ads. (“Adult services” ads required a valid phone number and a credit card for posting, making it easier to track the people who placed the ads.)

— Several members of Congress, most notably Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat whose district includes San Francisco, have proposed hearings to determine if additional action should be taken to shut down the sex ads on Craigslist. Speier issued a statement after Craigslist closed adult services, saying, “The section is down but not forgotten. We can’t forget the victims, we can’t rest easy. Child sex trafficking continues and lawmakers need to fight future machinations of Internet-driven sites that peddle children.”

— Other sites, especially Backpage.com, operated by Village Voice Media, are likely to benefit substantially from the shutdown of adult services on Craigslist. We recently researched Backpage / Village Voice Media’s version of adult services, and estimated its revenue for 2010 at $17.5 million in that category. Of course, that was before Craigslist closed its adult-services section. Bet on significant growth in that number — and a new spotlight on Village Voice Media as the leading purveyor of prostitution ads now that Craigslist’s section is gone. Backpage ads are far more graphic and blatantly oriented to prostitution than the ads ever were on Craigslist. (We’ve called Village Voice Media for a comment; so far, no comment — but we just asked a few minutes ago.)

— Prostitution won’t go away, nor will child trafficking. The irony of Craigslist’s adult-services section was that although it provided an open marketplace for prostitution and other illegal activity, it also provided a convenient central location for law enforcement officials to find people who were engaging in those illegal activities. And those officers universally agreed that Craigslist was extremely cooperative whenever there was a legal issue involiving advertising on Craigslist. Now that it’s gone, …

— Sites like MyRedBook.com (San Francisco Bay area) and LVFever.com (Las Vegas) are open services for promotion of prostitution. There’s no pretense or obfuscation by the advertisers on the sites. They’ll probably grow, as well, as Craigslist users find other places for their illegal activities.  One police officer quoted by the Contra Costa Times, in the East Bay area just outside San Francisco, called MyRedBook “a huge vehicle for online prostitution. … Our guys work that one and even the back of newspapers. I’m sure they’ll be happy Craigslist is getting rid of these ads, but I’m not sure how much difference it’ll make.”

Already, Valleywag, a site based in Silicon Valley, has offered “Your post-Craigslist guide to buying sex online.” So, the purveyors of prostitution won’t go down for long.

Written by Peter M. Zollman

Peter M. Zollman brings more than 35 years of media experience to his role as founding principal of the AIM Group / Classified Intelligence Report. He has worked with a wide range of media companies, dot-coms, technology providers and start-ups to develop and expand successful interactive-media services. He is based in Altamonte Springs, Fla., near Orlando.

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