Control Tower

Bitching About Craigslist

There are a bunch of unhappy hookers out on Aurora Avenue, and it's all Craig Newmark's fault.

So you'd think, anyway, from reading news stories about Craigslist's recent policy changes and the angry responses on sex workers' blogs. Craigslist now requires phone verification and a five-dollar fee, payable by credit card, to post ads in the "Erotic Services" section. Some sex workers are loudly protesting this move, calling the fee and the loss of anonymity unfair.

I wouldn't call it unfair. It's unfortunate, certainly. But the decision actually represents a compromise. Forty states' attorneys pressured Craigslist to eliminate all Erotic Services ads. CEO Jim Buckmaster agreed some ads were "crossing the line" and agreed to curb—but not ban—such postings. Craigslist says the fee will go to charity, and that creating a paper trail will help fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors as well as help "curtail illegal activity."

I doubt it'll cut down much on people trafficking in children and unwilling women. Trafficking is organized crime—you think traffickers can't get stolen phones and credit cards? It may discourage minors from attempting to sell sex by themselves, which is good. But it's mainly a token concession to the moral-outrage types and an attempt to staunch the never-ending flow of bad press about Craigslist prostitution stings. Does it create more hoops for advertisers to jump through? Yes. But the hoops aren't many nor high, so it's no life-ruiner for most women who choose to do sex work.

However, women like Maxine Doogan, founder of the Erotic Service Providers Union, think differently. Doogan says Craigslist provided a place where sex workers could anonymously and safely connect with clients for free. "They always end up further pushing into poverty the class of workers who don't have access to those tools of capitalism," she says. "Back to the streets—that's what's going to happen."

But as far as safety goes, clients from Craigslist are no less likely to assault women than any others, and hardly a week goes by without a Craigslist advertiser getting busted.

And I'm skeptical about the assertion—which I've heard from several other women—that Craigslist's new policy will drive sex workers who've been getting clients online "back to the streets." It certainly doesn't have to. The Erotic Services section was a bit like Napster, pre-2001. The law caught up with Napster, but people still swap files online. Sex workers can still get clients online too. Yes, Craigslist was free, and now it won't be. But it's five dollars—not exactly exorbitant. Don't want to use a credit card with your legal name? Go elsewhere. The Stranger takes money orders for adult ads, or you can walk in and pay cash., a popular online escort directory, also takes money orders.

"But Matisse, what if a woman is so poor that she doesn't have five dollars, a phone, or a credit card, and she has to post an ad right now?" Yes, we can construct a scenario where Craigslist is a mustache-twirling villain, evicting the helpless hooker out into the snow on Christmas Eve. But the vast majority of sex workers aren't victims: If sex-work activists want people to view sex work as a morally and socially neutral option, then continually suggesting that women fall into it as a last-ditch survival mechanism is counterproductive. It's more useful to fight poverty itself than it is to fight the policies of an organization that's trying to strike a balance between the law and a lot of different users. I have compassion for this hypothetical woman, but if she's that desperate, selling sex on Craigslist is not the answer to her problems—it's likely to make things worse, since desperate women are at higher risk to get hurt or arrested. The money Craigslist collects from those of us who can afford it should go toward creating other options for women like this.

Look at it this way, professional ladies: If you had a client who got out of hand, you'd make more rules to keep him in line. And you'd probably raise the price: the asshole tax, I've heard it called. Sex workers bitching about Craigslist's policies is like a rambunctious client bitching about being reined in. How about if we don't be assholes about it? recommended


Comments (30) RSS

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here here
Posted by Rachael F. on November 26, 2008 at 6:25 PM · Report this
"But Matisse, what if a woman is so poor that she doesn't have five dollars, a phone, or a credit card, and she has to post an ad right now?"

Then that woman probably doesn't get many chances to check Craigslist anyway!
Posted by banjoboy on November 26, 2008 at 8:54 PM · Report this
Rachael F., unless you're hollering for your lost puppy, it's "hear, hear," NOT "here, here."
Posted by J. Bo on November 27, 2008 at 1:09 AM · Report this
People also often forget that you need a computer and an internet connection (or, failing that, an internet-enabled phone) to post things into "free" websites. You also need electricity, for that matter. We shouldn't lose perspective, there's a breach in the digital era between those who can actually access the internet and those who don't.
In my opinion, after crossing that breach, 5 dollars more or less don't make any difference in any business that is ever going to feed someone, be it sex work or otherwise.
Posted by BegoƱa on November 27, 2008 at 6:28 AM · Report this
BITCH, BITCH, BITCH. who cares?
Posted by alexarden on November 28, 2008 at 11:05 AM · Report this
A very good article. I read about that and wondered what the callgirls thought of it. yes, 5 dollars compared to what they make an hour doesn't seem like much!
Posted by foxybrown on November 28, 2008 at 1:43 PM · Report this
For women like me, who provide an erotic service that is not prostitution, but who still wish to remain anonymous, the CL change leaves us in a difficult situation in terms of finding business. I'm not sure it's appropriate for me to advertise on erotic service boards, because those seem geared toward prostitutes only.

I don't have a problem with CL deciding to run its business anyway it wants, but I do think that this is basically a move by governments to make CL the legal gatherer of information that the governments can't legally gather.

My response, rather than to whine about CL, is to produce new streams of income.
Posted by Lindsay on November 28, 2008 at 8:27 PM · Report this
Lindsey - what exactly do you do that's erotic but not prostitution? If it's not illegal, then why worry about anonymity?
Posted by notarobot on November 28, 2008 at 9:27 PM · Report this
To notarobot-
It could be stuff like nude dancing, or camera shows. Things that are technically not illegal, but you would never want your mom finding out.
An additional consideration is if the woman wants to have a chance at a "normal" career in the future. It could seriously hurt career prospects if word gets out among employers that an employee used to strip on camera, or whatever it is that Lindsey does.
Posted by lp on November 28, 2008 at 11:25 PM · Report this
Notarobot, are you fucking kidding me? Have you been reading MM's column for long...??? There's a whole lotta bizness that falls under "erotic" and not "illegal". Read up, my friend.
Posted by Scarlett on November 28, 2008 at 11:58 PM · Report this
I'm not stupid but look CL isn't going to publish advertisers name on billboards or anything. They'll only give to cops with a court order or whatever. unless you're doing something that gets you busted then, no damage. I'm not saying no one could find out I'm just saying CL ad records isn't probably gonaa be the way they do. More like someone you know will see you and tell freinds/family/whatever.
Posted by notarobot on November 29, 2008 at 12:49 AM · Report this
Hey !! That Lindsay whore has it right- she's pretty smart.
Posted by toddler on November 29, 2008 at 7:32 PM · Report this
Re Internet access: Library.
Posted by Ms. M. on November 30, 2008 at 1:55 PM · Report this
You wrote: "Does it create more hoops for advertisers to jump through? Yes. But the hoops aren't many nor high, so it's no life-ruiner for most women who choose to do sex work."

Are you hoop jumping for a living?
Funny how those who support (through governement taxes), the creation of hoops for groups of workers; new barriers like those implemented by craigslist, you yourselves don't have transverse. And who is going to hold the government accountable for the 'exploited children'?
Posted by mistressofthemattreses on November 30, 2008 at 3:59 PM · Report this
Shut up woman. Your mouth is only good for one thing. Polishing my cock to a bright shine and taking what I gives ya.

You will enjoy it.

See! I can be a professional "domme" to!

You are a degenerate and lame. Mainstreaming of "kinksterism" is stupid.
Posted by ecce homo on November 30, 2008 at 4:35 PM · Report this
I mean people always find a way to get sex as well as sell it, so I don't see this as being a huge change. Besides there's always forms of other media to post in or use for advertisement.
Posted by D.Nikki on November 30, 2008 at 4:35 PM · Report this
ecce homo: I doubt sincerely you'd be able to make a living as a professional dominant, as your proven ability to be verbally abusive and dismissive via anonymous comments does not actually qualify you to be a sex worker. It just qualifies you to be an abusive, dismissive jerk; maybe you should stick with that.

Oh, and it's "too", as in also - not "to".
Posted by Hannah on November 30, 2008 at 10:02 PM · Report this
wHat Is it wITh alL tHeSe gUrLZ oN cRaiGSlisT eRoTic SeRViCeS uSinG gOOFy CapITaLIZation?
£ ¤? Ø Ø Ø Ø Ø
It is really juvenile and irritating
Posted by GG on December 1, 2008 at 7:06 PM · Report this
Ashley go away. No one likes you. Keep up with these juvenile games and see what happens.
Posted by ProfessorX on December 2, 2008 at 5:15 AM · Report this
Posted by rbj on December 2, 2008 at 9:12 AM · Report this
anyone ever look at myspace?
Its sex sex sex.....
Posted by rob2tall on December 2, 2008 at 11:03 AM · Report this
So why don't the sex workers just pass the fee off onto their customers? Are prices that cut-throat that they don't dare increase even a penny lest they lose all their business to the service station across the street?

Admittedly clueless here, but it seems like that's the way legitimate businesses conduct themselves.
Posted by Lavode on December 2, 2008 at 11:58 AM · Report this
There's plenty of free sites out there geared toward erotic services of ALL types. And any intelligent person looking to hire someone for any erotic service should go to one of those sites and NOT Craigslist anyway. Craigslist is full of scams and rip-off artists. These other sites offer a community and reviews that can vouch for the truth (or lack of truth), in the ads posted. try for a start.
Posted by devon on December 2, 2008 at 12:16 PM · Report this
I'm no lawyer, but it seems that with prepaid cell phones and credit cards (I keep seeing commercials for the "green dot" thing), a girl could do what she needs to do and remain anonymous. Don't they have to provide a way for clients to get in touch anyhow? And doesn't that jeopardize anonymity?
Posted by Sshhh on December 2, 2008 at 5:35 PM · Report this
Craigslist isn't where smart clients and providers hook-up anyway. And Give me a break. I though MM knew something about the sex industry. CL is 50% skanks and 25% cops, Robs, and fakes. Professionals don't use CL, ever. So I don't see how a change in policy at CL will affect the quality of service offered in our fair city.
As much as MM crows about being a sex industry expert, she sure is weak when it comes to actual boots on the ground knowledge. Why do I get the impression she has more imagination than experience?
Posted by W.M. Felt on December 3, 2008 at 1:26 AM · Report this
Recent advances in financial services technology have all-but-nullified the "i can't get credit" argument. There are options for pre-paid credit cards available to people who can't (or don't want to) get a conventional card. Google "pre-paid credit card" for multiple options.
Posted by jr on December 3, 2008 at 2:28 PM · Report this
If the Union wants to do something supportive, it could provide a financial service for its members through business credit cards they can use to make purchases, including Craigslist ads.
Posted by An Idea on December 3, 2008 at 10:37 PM · Report this
As much as I want to feel for you, I really can't on this issue.

I had an ex-bf post my cell phone number and the home phone numbers of my grandparents on Craigslist under erotic services over and over because I had the audacity to dump him for cheating on me. Flagging posts isn't fast enough to keep constant phone calls at bay, and the police work to stop him went on for 8 months+. A simple phone call verification would have stopped him in his tracks.

(Turns out that little stunt is a felony, and he's lost his apartment and job because of it, but that kind of vindication wasn't worth the aggravation of my family.)
Posted by Rhedd on December 5, 2008 at 2:58 PM · Report this
Is letting a guy masturbate while you nude dance, illegal??
Posted by theresa on December 17, 2008 at 6:35 AM · Report this
so what are the new websites for these people to post on?
Posted by jered Carter on January 22, 2009 at 9:09 PM · Report this

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