AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said Wednesday she is joining an effort by at least 17 state attorneys general that asks the popular Craigslist website to remove its “adult services” section because they argue the site cannot adequately block ads that may be illegal and promote prostitution.
“I fully support the letter sent by 17 other attorneys general of differing political persuasions and from all over the country,” Mills said in an interview. “I fully agree with their letter in its request that Craigslist immediately take down the adult services section of the website.”
Mills said she did not sign the letter because it had not come to her attention until after the deadline for signing onto the letter circulated by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. She has sent an e-mail to Blumenthal endorsing the letter and offering to support changes that might be needed in federal law to address the issue.
“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,” the letter from the attorneys general stated. “In our view, the company should take immediate action to end the misery for the women and children who may be exploited and victimized by these ads.”
Mills said she found the letters that have appeared in national newspapers from women who say they were exploited by the website “very moving.” She said the letters spell out how the website is not screening ads properly.
“They expose exactly what they felt Craigslist had done to their lives,” she said. “Getting them into prostitution at a very young age, 10 or 12 years old.”
Mills said the women were abused and used by their “johns” through the website. She said young girls were “enslaved” into the sex trade. She said the number of letters from women all over the country is an indication of a widespread problem.
“Clearly Craigslist uses interstate communication to facilitate the sex trade, including sex trade involving minors,” she said. “Sometimes very young kids.”
In a brief statement, Craigslist spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best said the website supports efforts by the state attorneys general to stop illegal activity, but did not address the call for the adult services section to be discontinued.
“We hope to work closely with them, as we are with experts at nonprofits and in law enforcement, to prevent misuse of our site in facilitation of trafficking,” she said.
The response of the company to the letter and in interviews with some news organizations has clearly angered the attorneys general. In their letter to the website, they describe the company’s position as a variant of the “blame the victim” position that is unjustifiable.
“Craigslist is the only player in the sex industry who is in a position to stop these ads before they are published,” the letter stated. “Second, once an ad goes live on the site, it is a virtual certainty that someone will be victimized.”
Mills said Craigslist should “do the right thing” and end the adult services section of their website. She said while it may be a difficult prosecution to conduct, she and other state attorneys general may have cases against the website under state criminal law.
“In some states it could be considered abetting prostitution,” she said. Mills said Craigslist and other website operators successfully lobbied Congress a few years ago to get an exemption from federal law but the states may be able to prosecute under state laws.
“These are 11- and 12-year-old kids that were enslaved into the sex trade,” she said.
Mills said the federal government should look at what laws could be used to prevent the website from listing what amounts to ads for prostitution. She said if Congress needs to change existing laws, or enact new ones, it should.
Mills said she would also support any coordinated effort by state prosecutors to use various state laws to address the problem. She expects other attorneys general from across the country will join in the letter and she believes the national organization of attorneys is likely to get involved.