Saturday, September 18, 2010

The anti-Craigslist campaign and other stupidities

It may not be a big thing on this side of the globe, but in the US there is a major campaign against Craigslist. Broadly the campaigners claim that Craigslist provides a way for criminals to pimp and traffic young women for sex. By inference it appears that they believe that Craigslist does nothing to stop this trade, that it is widespread within Craiglist's listings and that the company is venal. We now have young women's advocacy organisations rejecting donations from Craiglist.
Meanwhile the Attorneys General of 20 States in the US have run a campaign to force Craigslist to close its Adult Services section. Note that it appears that there is no legal reason for Craigslist to do that. One assumes that if even one of those Attorneys General had the legal means to do so they would have taken action in the courts to force Craigslist to take action, Instead we have a campaign that has sought to harness public opinion against Craigslist.
It appears to me that we have the modern day version of the lynch mob chasing Craigslist and without sound reason.
The argument used is that Craigslist and other websites provide the ideal place for criminals to traffic young women, and that they are used by those people in that way. The anti-Craiglist lobby argues that the problem is huge. This quote (and the others to follow) is from a CNN news report:

"Nobody knows what the real numbers are," said Ernie Allen, the NCMEC's (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) chief executive. "I'm also confident that the internet has changed the dynamic of this whole problem. We're finding an astounding number of kids being sold for sex on the internet."

Allen said the best source of information on the number of underage girls being trafficked online are websites themselves. While online classified giant Craigslist shut down its "adult services" pages in early September, other sites like are filling the vacuum left behind, he said. And while there are clues in the way the ads are written, only a small fraction of them get referred to law enforcement or organizations like the NCMEC.

Let's be clear before we go any further that we all know that even one exploited child is one too many. That's something that I feel very strongly about. Equally I feel that in this case the advocates, and as we will later see, the law enforcement organisations are engaged in a massive stupidity. Bluntly they have forgotten that their job is to catch (or advocate for the right action against) the criminals who exploit children and instead have embarked on a campaign without evidence against Criagslist. My message to the NCMEC and all of the law enforcement agencies is this: If the problem is as large as you claim then you are simply lazy and not very good at your jobs. You are not doing your job, rather you are seeking to blame an easy target. When you have driven Craigslist from business you will not have made one single ounce of difference to one single exploited child. Not a single bit of difference.
The first sentence of the quote above gives us a guide to what is going on here. "Nobody knows what the real numbers are". That is the standard line used when there is no evidence. However that's not going to stop him or others. What that really means is that these people don't have a shred of evidence but they're still hell bent on their lynch mob tactics with respect to Craigslist.
Further on in that same report we get this:
"It's an outrageous thing to say, but one of our goals is to move these operators into some other illicit enterprise -- to get them out of the trafficking of human beings and into some other illegal business," Allen [CEO of the NCMEC] said.

Yes it is an outrageous thing to say. He's talking about the people that he claims are pimping young girls via sites like Craigslist. Similarly we have this:

In Atlanta, Georgia, one of the country's busiest prostitution markets due to its position as a highway and air travel hub, police and prosecutors witnessed the effect of the internet on the business of prostitution firsthand.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told CNN that eight years ago, law enforcement began a serious crackdown on the pimps that control most underage victims, until the pimps vanished.

"At that time, we saw a number of underage girls standing on street corners, and they were usually standing there because a pimp had placed them there," Howard said. "After we started our crackdown, we began to notice that the numbers became fewer and fewer, and we were wondering, 'What's going on?'

"What we found is that there was a wholesale transformation from young girls standing on the streets to those same young girls being sold through Craigslist and other internet vendors," Howard said. "That has put us in a terrible position, because much of the illegal sex activity now goes on almost undetected by the police. The numbers we believe remain the same, but what has happened is that they are now out of sight."

So when was the last time we heard about the need for law enforcement to move with the times? These guys are still stuck in a 1960s time warp. The world has moved on guys and the way you need to catch criminals has changed. Why is it that your definition of law enforcement is to run campaigns against legitimate businesses? Why are you too lazy to work out how to enforce the law with respect to the real criminals: the people who place the ads.
By all means if, in the course of doing your job, you arrive at evidence that Craigslist is breaking the law then prosecute them. They have no right to special treatment. But at the moment what's happening is that the law enforcement establishment is targeting Craigslist and allowing the real criminals to go on exploiting women unchecked. That's a shameful situation.
This campaign has moved to the point of mob hysteria is some quarters. A search of Twitter will turn up reams of increasingly bizarre posts lauding the campaign against Craigslist.
What really makes me angry is that all this effort is misdirected. Direct the energy to smart, effective law enforcement. Catch these people and imprison them. At the moment all this campaign is doing is diverting energy from the real actions that will help the young people who are being exploited. That's shameful.

PS: sorry about the formatting in this post...sometimes Blogger defeats me!

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