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Craigslist to remove erotic services section, monitor adult services posts [Updated]

May 13, 2009 |  8:40 am

Updated at 10:17 a.m.: This post has been updated to add comments from Craigslist Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster, Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan and a Craigslist spokeswoman.

After weeks of pressure from state and local law enforcement officials, Craigslist is announcing today that it will remove its controversial erotic services section permanently. In its place, the classifieds site has created an "adult services" category for which every new listing will be manually approved. Currently most ads on the site are posted without review.

CraigslistAs of today, the erotic services section will no longer accept new ads and will be removed completely in seven days. Posts to the adult services section will cost $10, twice as much as those for erotic services listings. Craigslist had agreed to donate proceeds from the erotic services listings to charity but says that rule will not necessarily apply to the new ads.

Craigslist Chief Executive officer Jim Buckmaster said in an interview that the site had come to the decision after carefully weighing input from law enforcement, users, legitimate online businesses and free speech advocates. 

"It was a balancing act where we’re trying to respond to feedback to constituencies that we felt were important.  When you’re talking about attorneys general who are the top legal authority in their respective states," he said, "That was feedback that we felt was important to take into account."

"We’re optimistic that we’ve struck the right balance," he added.

Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, one of the most active critics of Craigslist's erotic services section, called the new oversight regime "a fundamental and very significant change to how Craigslist works."

Prostitution will not disappear, Madigan said, but with the tougher new measures, "You’re not going to have the volume of it, you’re not going to have the ease of it."

Madigan added that her office and others would continue to monitor the site. 

"We’ll use law enforcement techniques to determine whether those are legitimate adult services as opposed to just a continuation of prostitution, with a different name."

When asked for a precise definition of legal "adult services," Craigslist spokeswoman Susan Best wrote in an e-mail, "The typical definition (i.e. go look in your office yellow pages under escort and massage) sensual massage, escorts etc."

Though both Madigan and Buckmaster agreed that the deal had been struck on a cooperative note, the San Francisco company argues that the case against it had been exaggerated. Craigslist makes the point in a blog post it plans to publish today and which was provided to The Times.

Craigslist-erotic"Unsurprisingly, but completely contrary to some of the sensationalistic journalism we've seen these past few weeks, the record is clear that use of craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent
crime than print classifieds," the post says. 

"However, with respect to this new paid category for advertising by legal businesses, we will experiment with some of the methods traditionally employed in paid print classifieds."

Law enforcement officials have often complained about the ease with which prostitutes and their clients can arrange encounters on Craigslist. But officials have stepped up their criticism since the slaying of masseuse Julissa Brisman, whose body was found April 14 in a Boston hotel. Police say the killer found her through a Craigslist ad.

Boston University medical student Philip Markoff, 23, is accused of bludgeoning Brisman with a gun and then shooting her. Rhode Island authorities filed additional charges last week, saying he robbed a stripper at a Warwick, R.I., Holiday Inn two days later. He was arrested the following week as he drove to a local casino with his fiancee.

Markoff has pleaded not guilty.

-- David Sarno

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