I remember the first time I visited Craigslist. We had posted some children’s items for sale. I was surprised and initially impressed by the range of products and services offered on the site and started surfing around. It wasn’t too long before I noticed the “friendship” or “relationship” ads. The explicit statements stunned me. The Red Light District in Amsterdam had nothing on those postings. Turns out that at least some of those girls advertised on Craigslist were/are still little girls. While we were selling kids stuff, other folks were selling their kids …
The open letter below to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster is a good reminder that the sex-porn industry is based on abuse, either harvesting the fruit of sexually abused children or too often, directly exploiting and abusing children.
We met about 18 months ago via video-conference and at that time I shared with you a story of an 11 year old girl that I was working with. I’m not sure if you remember her, but I’d like to share this story with you again.
“Bethany” had been in foster care since she was 2 years old and had bounced from foster home to foster home, until at 11 she was introduced to a friend of her 14 year old sister. This friend was a 32 year old man who lured her in with promises of a stable home and love, everything she’d been craving her whole short life. He took Bethany from New York down to a hotel in DC, bought her some ‘sexy’ clothes, and took pictures of her and then posted those pictures on your site, Craigslist. Bethany didn’t really think there was anything unusual about this, after all her 14 and 16 year old sisters were both being sold on Craigslist too.
For nine months, almost till she turned 12 years old, Bethany’s pictures were posted on Craigslist. Sometimes she was “NEW IN TOWN” when her pimp/trafficker would bring her to cities up and down the East Coast, posting her pictures in different regions. Sometimes she was “HOT N SEXXY FOR U” with her price listed as 150 roses. Night after night, adult men clicked on her ads, dialed a number and ordered her as easily as they would’ve ordered a pizza. Night after night, adult men came to the hotel room she was being kept in and had sex with her, or rather raped her, as at 11 years old she was too young to consent. Night after night, her pimp collected the money that he made from her and if it wasn’t enough he beat or whipped her, badly enough that she has permanent scars.
No-one who saw Bethany’s pictures ever clicked on the link on your site and reported “suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking to the appropriate authorities”. No law enforcement ever found the ads that her trafficker posted in the midst of the hundreds and hundreds of other ads of girls for sale.
Bethany, and her two sisters, were sold on your site, just like hundreds of other girls I’ve worked with have been. Just like thousands of other girls and young women across America are sold every night. It’s hard to imagine that as a businessman with a sense of social responsibility that this wouldn’t sicken and horrify you. The thought that you could profit even one dollar, let alone millions of dollars, in any way from the sale of children has to deeply sadden and make you outraged to the point where you would want to ensure that this can’t happen – at least not on your site. I would’ve hoped that would be your automatic response anyway.
Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case. Your responses to the criticism though raise some interesting points. Yes, while there may be a few people who are concerned about “casual sex” on your site, the vast majority of people who are signing petitions and raising their voices about this issue are doing so on behalf of girls like Bethany who don’t have a voice. Yes, while there are of course other sites, magazines and Yellow Page ads where girls and women can be bought, very few of them have the brand-name recognition that Craigslist does, and besides, the “other people are doing it too” argument seems to be one that our mothers taught us when we were in kindergarten didn’t hold much water. (Kudos, by the way, to New York Magazine for dropping all their sex for sale ads last year). And yes, while Craigslist has been cooperative with law enforcement on this issue, the sheer volume of postings of girls for sale on each night, in each city makes truly targeting traffickers and pimps a Sisphyean task.
This campaign isn’t about a “cynical misuse of a cause as important as human trafficking as a pretense for imposing one’s own flavor of religious morality”. In fact, for those of us on the ground who work with girls like Bethany every day, it’s saddening to have our work and our advocacy efforts framed as such. While we recognize that Craigslist taking a stand on this issue won’t end commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking in our country, it will send a powerful message to the adult male buyers that Craigslist will have no part in, nor take any profit from, the sale of 11 (or 14, or 16) year old girls.
Rachel Lloyd is the founder of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services.