State AGs Ask Craigslist To Drop Adult Services Ads

Several state attorneys general are calling on Craigslist to get rid of its adult services section. They say the company isn't doing enough to screen out ads that promote prostitution and child trafficking. NPR's Melissa Block talks to Chris Koster, state attorney general for Missouri.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The attorneys general of 17 states are calling on Craigslist to get rid of its adult services section. In a letter to Craigslist, they write: The increasingly sharp public criticism of Craigslist's adult services section reflects a growing recognition that ads for prostitution, including ads trafficking children, are rampant on it. In our view, they say, the company should take immediate action to end the misery for the women and children who may be exploited and victimized by these ads.

Well, Chris Koster is among those who signed the letter to Craigslist. He's the attorney general of Missouri, and he joins me from Jefferson City. Welcome to the program.

Mr. CHRIS KOSTER (State Attorney General, Missouri): Good to be with you.

BLOCK: The growing recognition that you're talking about, what more is known now, do you think, about the adult services section of Craigslist than we knew before?

Mr. KOSTER: Well, unfortunately, the thing that is most significant that we didn't know before is that Craigslist either refuses or cannot do anything about this. They had made representations to the attorneys general about a year ago that they would put safeguards over the system that would bring about change, and it just has not occurred.

BLOCK: Well, they do say, they have posted in blog posts that since May of last year, all the adult services ads, they say, are reviewed by an attorney who enforces the posting guidelines. They say they have rejected 700,000 ads through manual screening. You don't think that's enough?

Mr. KOSTER: Anybody who goes to their own home city and goes to the adult services site, I think, recognizes the continuing and severe problem, which is why you've got 17 attorney generals across the country signing this letter.

BLOCK: I did try to look through some of them today, locally here, and I would assume that some of those ads, at least, would be placed by adult women who are not victims, who, this is their line of work, and they want to promote their services. Am I wrong about that?

Mr. KOSTER: Well, in Missouri, if you and I are on the same page on what you just said, in Missouri, that's called prostitution. And that's exactly what we are complaining and have been complaining to Craigslist for quite some time over, that some of these ads are very specific. They are clearly for sex, and Craig Newmark is providing a bulletin board for conduct that frequently violates the laws of the 50 states.

BLOCK: I take your point about these ads promoting prostitution, which is illegal. Wouldn't that be a little bit different, though, from saying that women are being victimized? One does not necessarily imply the other, I think.

Mr. KOSTER: That's right. I mean, every single ad that we see on this site, on this link, is not creating a victim. But there are far too many that do, and if you go through any town in America, certainly any town of any size, you're going to see a large number of ads that would certainly appear as advertisements for prostitution.

BLOCK: We did get an email statement from a Craigslist spokeswoman, who says: We strongly support the attorneys' general desire to end trafficking in children and women, through the Internet or by any other means. They say they will work closely with you. Have you had a conversation with them about that?

Mr. KOSTER: Most of the conversations are being conducted directly through Craigslist and the Connecticut office, which is taking the lead. But I have been involved in several of the conversations with Craigslist and have found them to not be particularly cooperative, quite honestly.

I hear more legal excuses as to why they should be allowed to leave these ads up than an effort to take them down and to clean up the site.

BLOCK: Would this be limited to Craigslist? Would there be a similar argument to be made about any local newspaper, magazine that might have ads that advertise essentially the same services that are being promoted on Craigslist?

Mr. KOSTER: I think that's a legitimate criticism of the situation. We are focused on Craigslist at this point because it is the biggest and most frequently visited of these types of sites.

And ultimately, as you extrapolate the issue, you get down to the city newspapers and the city singles pages that create a similar issue, although typically, the photographs that accompany ads on Craigslist do, I think, raise it to a different level.

BLOCK: Chris Koster, thank you for talking with us.

Mr. KOSTER: You got it.

BLOCK: Chris Koster is the attorney general of Missouri.

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