Faster Forward: After Craigslist, 'adult services' ads find new homes

By Rob Pegoraro
Tuesday, September 28, 2010; 12:02 PM

It's now been almost two weeks since Craigslist spent a day under a Congressional spotlight for its now-ended "adult services" ads. Since the San Francisco-based classified-ads site publicly surrendered at a Sept. 15 hearing--saying the ads it once accepted would flow to other sites that made fewer or no efforts to screen out illegal activity like prostitution--it's largely dropped out of the headlines.

There have been a few follow-ups to note. Melissa Petro, an arts teacher in the Bronx, wrote a short piece for the Huffington Post recounting how she (no euphemisms here) "accepted money in exchange for sexual services I provided to men" located through the site's adult-services category--then called (no euphemisms there) "erotic services."

The piece ends with a regret that Craigslist didn't keep up the fight and a wish that prostitution would be legalized. The debate over the site would have been more interesting had Craigslist said upfront that it should be legal for consenting adults to trade sex for money. (The discussion would have been more interesting had Craigslist said anything after the story broke, instead of hoping people would recognize what a nice guy founder Craig Newmark is. But I digress.)

After you read Petro's post, you should also see Michelle Goldberg's piece for the Daily Beast about child sex trafficking on Craigslist. It's ugly, arresting reading.

So where have those adult-services ads gone? One place to look, according to comments on my last post, in e-mail and in reports elsewhere, is Craigslist's own personals ads. Another is competing sites--some of which are now feeling the same pressure as Craigslist.

Twenty-one state attorneys general sent a letter to Village Voice Media's last week demanding that it close its adult-services section. The site responded in a blog post with many of the same defenses that Craigslist had made, saying it screens its ads and cooperates with law enforcement regularly and promptly. I don't know that it will fare any better than Craigslist.

Another publisher that has been criticized in the past for taking advertisements for establishments linked to prostitution just said it will now decline those ads. That would be my employer.

Washington Post Co. spokeswoman Kris Coratti e-mailed the following statement late yesterday afternoon:

"The Washington Post will no longer accept advertisements for massage parlor businesses.

"It has always been The Post's policy not to accept advertising from illegal businesses. Customarily, in making judgments about advertisements, we rely on local government licensing procedures and law enforcement actions to determine whether a business is operating legally.

"In the case of massage parlors (sometimes called spas), we have required proof of a valid business license from the jurisdiction where the establishment was located. If we learned that a specific business was not operating within the law, we would discontinue their advertising.

"We have been examining the policy on massage parlors over the past several years. Over that time, we have seen law enforcement identify a number of such businesses as being engaged in illegal activities. We have also been directed to postings on adult websites from customers of these businesses that refer to illegal activities taking place at these establishments. It has become clear to us that our existing standards needed to evolve. We have therefore decided not to accept such advertisements going forward."

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