Craigslist sex ad effort no solution

Posted Nov. 07, 2008, at 6:42 p.m.

You can’t fault someone for trying.

That was my first thought this week when I saw the nationwide headlines that prosecutors in 40 states, including Maine, had signed an agreement with craigslist.com in an attempt to rein in sex ads (or prostitution) on the free online classified ad site.

Under the agreement, Craigslist will require users who post ads under “erotic services” to provide a working phone number and pay an ad fee with a “valid” credit card.

If the company later is served with a subpoena it would turn over that information to the investigative police agency, thereby, I suppose making it easier for detectives to investigate online illegal sexual shenanigans.

Clearly Craigslist and other similar online advertising sites have lent a whole new market to those involved in the “world’s oldest profession.”

The news of this agreement made for great press conferences across the country and resulted in such headlines as “Craigslist sex ads reined in.”

But here’s the real deal. Even though the path to prostitution services may have changed dramatically over several generations, one thing remains the same — those seeking to buy or sell sex have always outsmarted and outnumbered those seeking to “rein it in.” And let’s face it, they certainly have more financial resources.

I don’t see that changing much with this week’s grand announcement.

Take, for example, here in Maine. The governor is threatening to slash budgets, including those of the Office of the Attorney General and the Maine State Police who are primarily responsible for investigating computer crimes.

Just where on the list of priorities do erotic services offered on Craigslist fall?

Of course, we hope that our investigators and prosecutors are investigating any major child pornography or human trafficking rings, but do you suppose they really have the resources for the majority of those out there in Maine’s cyberspace offering up sex for money?

I would suggest that such investigations are not actively occurring in any other cash-strapped state either.

But for the heck of it let’s just say that I am Cinnamon Sweets. I talked to Sweets on the phone two months ago after getting the number of her escort service off craigslist.com. She runs an escort service in the Bangor area and advertises under the headline of erotic services.

She assured me that though she’s aware that some may think her business is a bit questionable, that “there is absolutely no prostitution” going on. She simply hires out girls to perform exotic dancing in private settings.

Clearly, any prudent business owner is going to try to limit any new operating costs, including fees for exotic services advertising.

Sweets has been running her service for a number of years, she says. I’m betting she’s quite savvy.

Perhaps then my ads may be placed under other Craigslist options, such as “Skilled Trades,” “Lessons” or “Adult Gigs.”

Think my customers might be able to find me?

I truly don’t mean to fault the owners of Craigslist for trying to work with investigators. Human trafficking and child pornography rings are very, very real and they exist right here in this state.

The Internet makes it that much easier for those profiting from it.

Steps do need to be taken, even if they are as small as the one this week. But headlines that suggest that Craigslist sex ads are being reined in are misleading. Truth be told, neither police nor prosecutors have the time or resources to investigate run-of-the-mill prostitution businesses.

Prosecutors suggesting that charging a fee to advertise under the category of erotic services is really going to hamper the efforts of those seeking to profit from pimping out children are either terribly naive or think that we are.

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