Craigslist and Prostitution… Again.

It’s the issue that just won’t go away. I wrote about this over a year ago, here and here.

The New York Times makes a ridiculous assertion that Craigslist has removed the section and replaced it with the word “censored” as a ploy to inflame public support. It is a ridiculous assertion because the only groups who would be engaged by such a ploy are civil libertarians who have already been rallying in support of the company and people who engage in offering and soliciting adult services through Craigslist… so to follow the logic of the brain trust at the New York Times, the only net gain would be those people who are the least likely to get engaged in the public debate. Brilliant.

I read Jeff Jarvis’ piece and am inclined to agree with him on many of his points. I’d suggest you skip the vacuous NYT piece and go straight to Jarvis.

Before I end I do want to write about my thoughts on the macro issue here, prostitution. Craigslist is but a flash point in a much larger public debate about the legalization of prostitution and civil libertarians who are rallying to Craigslist’s defense fall into two categories, those that hold an academic argument about the appropriateness of government coming down on Craigslist to force changes in the way that they intermediate speech and commerce. They have a legitimate argument to make and strict constructionists would agree with them but this is the problem with strict constructionism, the Constitution and the laws that are derived from it are much more than the words alone so I agree with Justice Scalia in that laws “should be construed reasonable, to contain all that it fairly means”.

The other group of CL supporters I want to call out are the ones who offer that prostitution shouldn’t be criminalized and removing the adult section from CL won’t change anything. This may be true but it’s a disingenuous argument because chaos would ensue if we were simply to ignore the laws we don’t agree with and haven’t been reviewed through the legislative process… I see few people driving the speed limit on i280 so we should simply do away with speed limits as a result? If you don’t like the law, mount a campaign to build public support and then elect public officials who will change it or do so through the ballot initiative process. In the face of legislative inaction this is exactly what the organized groups supporting the legalization of marijuana have been doing.

I’ve been careful to not insert my own view on this issue but it is important to recognize that this debate really has 4 major components that have to be considered and to ignore them is to do a disservice to your own argument:

1) Exploitation of children for sex.

2) Pimping, the economic benefit derived from the prostitution of others.

3) Cross border trafficking of women for forced prostitution.

4) The commercial sex industry in the broadest of terms.

The Nordic countries have for many years evolved different laws and approaches to prostitution, Finland and Sweden are perhaps the most interesting to study from a comparative standpoint. If you are interested in this debate you should do your own research on the experiences of the Nordic countries because it’s very clear that simply legalizing the commercial sex industry does little to resolve the serious crimes of sex involving children, pimping, and human trafficking.

I don’t know why Craigslist replaced their adult services section with the word “censored” but it does seem like a childish move that fails to recognize the human issues playing out. Newmark and Buckmaster also need to reconsider their approach to this issue over the years because their detached and awkward demeanor at the various stages of this debate has done little to help them advance their cause.

If anything they seem to be going backward and I think no better example of this exists than Buckmaster explaining why they stopped giving money to non-profit organizations helping women, saying (to paraphrase) that they were tired of seeing these organizations hold media events to tear up the check that Craigslist was giving them. I don’t think Buckmaster has the self-awareness and humility necessary to understand why these organizations didn’t want Craigslist money that was the result of payment for sex service advertising, but I wish he would consider that question.