Last year, the Minneapolis-based Advocates for Human Rights released a damning report, Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota, that showed how pimps and traffickers use Craigslist to solicit minors for sex. This week, the Advocates for Human Rights joined the ranks of several non-profits across the nation by rejecting an unsolicited donation from the Craigslist Charitable Fund.
In its rejection the Advocates said that Craigslist “fuels the human sex trafficking industry. It is the exploitive behavior resulting from these ads that makes our efforts necessary.”
“I don’t know why and how they decided to send us a check,” said Robin Phillips, the executive director of the Advocates. The $25,000 donation was unsolicited.
Last week, the New York Times reported that this year Craigslist expects to make $36 million dollars, a 22 per cent increase in revenue. The Craigslist Charitable Fund was set up in 2008 with funding from Craigslist’s revenues.
Like many other non-profits, the Advocates is not receiving as much money in donations as it needs.
“While we are struggling financially, and our grant funding is down approximately 30% from two years ago,” said Phillips, “we cannot compromise our core principles to help alleviate our financial challenges. Phillips says that because Craigslist facilitates human trafficking by continuing to allow sex ads that are exploitative, her organization had no choice but to reject the money. “We have documented Craigslist’s facilitation of human sex trafficking and child exploitation in our own research. We cannot accept profits from these human rights violations to support our work, no matter how great our need.”
Her sentiments are echoed by other women’s rights activists. In New York, reports Salon, the National Organization for Women (NOW) has also rejected donations from Craigslist. NOW’s executive director, Sonia Ossorio, doesn’t mince her words. “It’s pretty black and white. For those of us … waging the war with traffickers, it’s just logical that we wouldn’t be accepting money from the many businesses that profit directly from women’s suffering.”
Craigslist, ironically, considers itself a champion in preventing sex exploitation on the internet. On its blog, the company’s chief executive Jim Buckmaster wrote, “Craigslist has gone beyond fulfilling its legal obligations, far beyond classifieds industry norms, has more than lived up to any promises it made, and working together with its partners is in fact a leader in the fight against human trafficking and exploitation.”
In a separate blog post, Buckmaster explains that personal ads are screened by human reviewers. “Each ad submitted to ‘adult services’ on CL is manually screened by one or more human reviewers. Ads that ‘blatantly advertise prostitution’ are summarily rejected.” Further, he argues, the website clearly has a warning banner that reads “Human trafficking and exploitation of minors are not tolerated – any suspected activity will be reported to law enforcement.”
However, reports like the one by the Advocates indicate that, even with the barriers that Craigslist claims, many young girls and women still fall prey to sexual exploitation on Craigslist. In one of the cases cited by the Advocates, a “defendant operated a prostitution ring out of her house and posted advertisements on the website Craigslist.org to prostitute minor girls.” In other cases, Minnesota law enforcement officers described arresting prostitutes after answering their advertisements on Craigslist. Perhaps the most infamous of these is the case of the shooting of a Coon Rapids man who attempted to cancel a date for prostitution from Craigslist.
Acknowledging that Craigslist does serve a lot of good in the exchange of legal goods and services Phillips says that the online classifieds company should, “stick with their good hat.”