PVV – Craig’s List

I love Craigslist.

I recently sold a Kitchen Aid stand mixer to some cute old man on Craigslist.  He wanted it to make dough for organic dog cookies (don’t ask me).  During one particularly hectic move that I hadn’t planned all that well, I found myself left with excesses of furniture and crap that I didn’t really need or want.  At what was pretty much the 11th hour, I posted an ad for “free stuff” on Craigslist and my moving woes disappeared before you could say “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.”  And honestly, the array of people you can meet through the course of selling socket sets, mattresses, Pink Floyd posters, concert tickets, and furniture is pretty amazing.

But Craigslist is more than just a vehicle for unloading your old goods on to new friends.  There are discussion forums, job listings, “gigs,” and everyone’s favorite obsession – the “missed connections” section of the personals.  (don’t act like you haven’t read it!)

Like I said, I love Craigslist… and really, who doesn’t?

So when I recently heard that Craiglist had slapped a “censored” bar over their adult services listing section, I had to investigate…

(pictured below: Craig!… it’s his list)

Craigslist was started by Craig Newmark in 1995 as a place where one may post free ads for just about anything.  Needless to say, it was only a matter of time before people started using Craigslist for sex stuff, thus the “adult” (also “erotic,” depending on where you are in the world) services section.

Now you may be feeling puritanical all of a sudden, but honestly – who hasn’t been curious about what goes on in this section?  What kinds of “sex stuff” exactly? 

Well, presumably anything you can imagine that may constitute erotic or adult services may go on in there… maybe even things that are illegal and/or victimizing sex-related activities (fyi, not all illegal sex-related behaviours are victimizing).  Regardless, the adult services section seemed to fly beneath the radar for years.  That is, until that whole “Craigslist Killer” thing in 2009.  Oh, you don’t remember that…

Philip Markoff, a rather “Chad”-like then-second-year student at Boston University medical school, was charged on April 20, 2009 with fatally shooting masseuse (or “masseuse”?) Julissa Brisman on April 14 of the same year.  He was also identified as the attacker in the attempted kidnapping of another woman.  Phil had connected with both women via Craigslist’s adult services section, hence the catchy “Craigslist Killer” nickname.  Craigslist got some rather negative flack after the whole Phil situation, presumably for not monitoring the adult services section’s posts.

(pictured to the right: Philip Markoff, typical “Chad”)

Wait, what?!  Was Craigslist supposed to somehow screen such that no killer medical students answered ads?  How in the world would they screen respondents for “killer”?  Or “lingerer”?  Or even “close talker”?!!

Well they wouldn’t because the type of screening that was being called for post-Phil was not for the protection of the people posting on Craigslist, oh no.  What Craigslist was supposed to be screening for was postings advertising “illegal” activity.  So in other words, had Julissa been a “masseuse” advertising a “massage,” Craiglist should have simply filtered her posting out of its hopper before someone had the opportunity to cap her in a hotel… well, at least that’s what 40 state attorney generals were gunning for (hehe).

Now first off, this logic is tragically flawed.  How is penalizing a potential victim by making it more difficult for that person to earn a living a viable solution?  And, even if Julissa advertised the hottest, stickiest, dirtiest “massage” ever, such a massage is not illegal unless 1) money is exchanged 2) for the express purpose of the “massage.”  So, had Julissa gotten paid $50 for a giving a massage and then had happened to jerk Phil off just for fun… well that’s not illegal. 

But I digress.

Regardless of this logically-flawed public outcry, Craigslist changed its free adult services posting section to a fee-based adult category wherein every advertisement was screened.  Let me say that again: Craigslist voluntarily began screening each and every ad presented to this section – that’ll show all them ho’s looking to jerk off innocent medical students, pshah!!

But then Phil killed himself this past August while awaiting trial, and the whole ruckus began once again.  “Critics” still maintained that Craigslist was supporting illegal prostitution, human trafficking, and exploitation via its adult services section.  So, in a move that I find both diplomatic and somewhat punk rock, Craigslist recently closed its manually-screened fee-based adult category.  Now all you get is a “censored” bar.

(pictured: “censored”)

And I still don’t get it… why the heck are people so up in arms about this section of Craigslist??!!

Qualifier time: I must say that, aside from my aforementioned sales adventures (during which Craig has enabled me to expeditiously unload stuff I didn’t want or need and pocket a little bit of cash in the meantime, two things I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do on my own – thanks Craig!!), I am not a Craigslist professional.  I maybe look at it ten times annually.  I also fully “admit” to having looked in the adult services section multiple times.  These are the types of things I remember reading:

Ads for jobs at legal adult-related businesses: PR positions, sales positions, even cashier/clerk type jobs.  At my almost-brokest during early grad school, the only thing that stopped me from taking a $25/hr job at a large chain adult bookstore in my area was the fact that it was night shift only – how ever would I have made it to my feminist theory class if I had been up all night selling vibrators and porn?!! And how ever would such a lucrative, yet stigmatized, job be advertised if not through Craigslist?

Modeling ads: not for me.

Ads for apparently of-age princesses looking for sponsors: these ads generally said something along the lines of “I’m a super-demanding, super-hott 22-year-old coed looking for a daddy to spoil me and pay my bills. Nice pool and abs required.”  The same broker version of myself, the one in feminist theory working on her PhD, was always irked by these types of ads.  Maybe you can figure out why…

Ads that really should be located in the “X-seeking-XorYorbothormore” sections: also, not for me.

I never once remember seeing an ad for something that looked like illegal sex trafficking, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there. My Craigslist-amateurish ass certainly could have read right over it, as that sort of thing was most assuredly not what I was browsing for.  Or maybe there really was nothing there, and my local (Austin) Craigslist was/is just too pure-of-heart for such nonsense.

Doubtful, regardless, and however…

I feel compelled to assert something here – Craigslist should not be getting harassed for supporting illegal prostitution, human trafficking, and exploitation via its adult services section, especially after they voluntarily began filtering ads and postings.

Why not?

Well consider the notion of limiting the (presumably) illegal activity that is advertised on Craigslist.  Harassing working girls advertising their services (there or elsewhere) is a slippery slope… one that is tenuous and expensive at best.  Until money is exchanged for some illegal sexual activity, you can advertise “massages” ‘til your heart’s content.  Identifying illegal activity in this respect is difficult and requires some serious effort.

Regarding trafficking and exploitation… well I bet Chris Hansen would be the first person signing up for The Super Mega Craigslist Sting Operation (and I may be the second).  If the adult section of Craigslist was nothing but a platform for the criminally sick to peddle their wares, then law enforcers and the like should be thanking Craig for creating a venue wherein these idiots line up.

But even more significant I think is this – why do we always feel compelled to blame the messenger?  Craigslist didn’t attack or kill anyone; Philip Markoff did.  Craigslist doesn’t traffic or exploit humans via its ads; it’s other humans that do that too.  It is naïve to think that harassing and censoring Craigslist will save the next Julissa or prevent another person from being sold into sexual servitude, and it will likely do nothing to cut down on the amount of illegal “massages” going down as we speak.

What needs to be harassed in this scenario is us… us a culture comprised of people who engage it this sort of awfulness (trafficking and exploitation, not “massages”)… us as a culture who couldn’t or wouldn’t identify sickness or instability (Phil) until it was too late.

And what does this have to do with porn?

Well, when you hear rhetoric about porn corrupting society or exploiting persons, you are getting a sampling of the same flawed logic that tells you Craigslist is responsible for human trafficking and exploitation or the murder of erotic service providers.


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You may quote anything herein with the following attribution: “Reprinted from Porn Valley Vantage, copyright © Chauntelle Anne Tibbals, PhD (www.pornvalleyvantage.com).”

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