US anti-traffickers think they have a ‘global responsibility’: just more imperialism

the_white_mans_burdenDo all Internet websites have a global responsibility just because they are accessible from everywhere? Most people would find that far-fetched, but I’ve received a letter signed by people calling themselves the anti-trafficking community who think so in one case – that of Craigslist. The letter asks the company to close its erotic and adult services sections all over the world, not only in the US, talking about ‘global responsibility’.

The letter demands a meaningful solution of how you intend to guarantee that no children are being sexually exploited on your site. Not only is this a bizarre request but is the same sort of thinking that justifies imperialist actions like invasions of other countries. It reminds me of a speech I heard that explained anti-trafficking campaigns around the world based on principles in the US Constitution.

The signers complain that Craigslist defended themselves at one point by saying that ‘experts’ in the ‘field’ of anti-trafficking approved of what they were doing (this is before they shut down the section in the US). On the contrary, say the signers of this letter, we are the real and only experts. Given the lack of evidence for most claims about trafficking it’s pretty silly to describe it as a field of knowledge, but that is the basis of this letter.

Choosing the right name and good keywords for social campaigns is crucial to success, and claiming to be the anti-trafficking community is not a bad effort. There are several implications to the claim:

  • that there is only one community that cares about victims of trafficking
  • that everyone in it saw this letter
  • that everyone who saw the letter signed it

But, of course, there are many other groups, ngos and individuals who do anti-trafficking work of one kind or another and who were undoubtedly not sent this letter to sign. I object to having the entire project of righting wrongs in this ‘field’ hijacked by a group with a particular ideology everyone does not share.

September 14, 2010
Sent via facsimile to
Jim Buckmaster, CEO
Craig Newmark, Founder
Craigslist, Inc.
1381 9th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94122

Dear Craig Newmark & Jim Buckmaster,

The experts in the anti-trafficking field who have signed this letter stand together asking you to shut down all the Adult and Erotic Services sections of your website around the world.

We all know that plenty of activity has preceded this letter. There have been meetings, news articles, research studies, protests, letters from survivors, blogs, boycotts, earnings estimates, lawsuits, subpoenas, and plenty of other actions. The voices of survivors, advocates, service providers, local law enforcement, members of Congress, and State Attorneys General have all implored you to do more to fight the sex trafficking of women and girls that occurs on your site.

We thank you for voluntarily closing the Adult Services section of Craigslist in the United States. While this is a positive step, Craigslist is a global company, and it has a global responsibility. More than 250 Craigslist sites exist around the world that still feature “Erotic” sections where trafficked children and women are being sold for sex through your website.

Of particular concern is your repeated statement that anti-trafficking “experts” are supportive of your approach. For example, in one of Jim Buckmaster’s online responses on the Huffington Post, he states, “To the contrary, we are convinced Craigslist is a vital part of the solution to this age-old scourge. We’ve been told as much by experts on the front lines of this fight…”1

There are some who may want you to keep the Erotic Services sections going outside the United States for various reasons. Sex traffickers surely want you to keep the sections going because it helps them make high profits by advertising women and children to large audiences of paying customers. “Johns” who pay for commercial sex want you to keep the section because your site makes it easy and less risky for them to buy women and girls simply by surfing the Internet and perusing the photos on various ads. There may even be some law enforcement officials who see some value in placing decoy ads on your site, or using Craigslist ads as evidence in an investigation. However, we highly doubt that on balance, law enforcement would condone a venue that is a platform for the sex trafficking of women and children. The recent letter signed by 17 State Attorneys General strongly suggests that many law enforcement officials believe the best solution is to close the section, as you have done in the United States.

The signers of this letter are the experts on the issue of human trafficking. Many of us work on the front lines, directly with victims on a daily basis. Some of us are survivors of human trafficking.

p 2
With this letter, we are telling you that on the whole, Craigslist’s Adult and Erotic Services sections continue to be more part of the problem than part of the solution. On the day that Craigslist shut down its Adult Services section in the United States, were the pimps and johns who depend on the site to advance the sex trade happy or upset? The answer to this question should help guide your path forward as you address the remaining “Erotic” sections around the world.

We acknowledge that there are some things that Craigslist has done that are part of the solution. Offering to meet with law enforcement and non-profits is a good thing. The decision to start screening the Adults Services ads was a step forward. Eliminating the blatant nudity that persisted in past years in the United States’ Erotic section was also a step forward. Posting national hotlines, and cooperating with law enforcement when cases are found is useful and laudable. As stated above, voluntarily shutting down the Adult Services section in the United States is also a step in the right direction. Despite such steps forward, these efforts are not enough.

We are deeply concerned that you have not yet taken down the Erotic Services sections across the globe. We are also concerned that it seems that you are not applying the screening techniques that were used in the United States to all the other Erotic Services sections worldwide.

In changing the name of the Adult Services section from “Erotic” to “Adult” in the United States, why did you not implement this change globally across your entire site? Furthermore, for the “Adult Services” pages in the United States, there was a “Warning & Disclaimer” page that discusses human trafficking an sexual exploitation. This disclaimer page is also present for the “Erotic” sections in Canada. Yet, as of the date of this letter, there is no “Warning & Disclaimer” page for the other international “Erotic” pages. Nudity is also still present in the photos associated with some “Erotic” ads in the international pages. The reality that you have not made the same improvements globally across your site reveals a disingenuous and inconsistent response on your part. Moreover, the few helpful actions you have taken do not measure up to the amount of daily harm being facilitated by Craigslist through the thousands of Erotic Services ads around the world each day.

In a recent letter, Jim Buckmaster stated that human trafficking ads are “quite rare” on Craigslist.2 Based on our experience and collective knowledge, we know that the presence of human traffickers on your site is more frequent than you realize. Traffickers have figured out ways to post pictures of clothed women and children that can get past your screeners. The anti-trafficking field has yet to be presented with a meaningful solution of how you intend to guarantee that no children are being sexually exploited on your site. As a result, we ask that you take down the Adult or Erotic sections, wherever they appear on Craigslist.

Another important reality for you to realize is that law enforcement does not currently have the resources to review and conduct an investigation of every single Adult or Erotic Services ad on your site. The sheer volume of ads outpaces law enforcement’s ability to respond to each one. Consequently, maintaining the Erotic Services sections in other countries enables the majority of Erotic ads to thrive without a law enforcement deterrent. Cooperating with law enforcement when a rare case is brought is a short-term solution, not reflective of an overall systemic analysis of the crime problem that you are enabling.

p 3
You have asserted that removing the Adult or Erotic Services sections will not entirely eliminate the presence of sex ads on your site. This may be true, but eliminating the centralized thoroughfares of each designated “Erotic Services” section seriously disrupts pimps and johns who buy and sell women and children on Craigslist. Closing this section of Craigslist across the globe will send a clear signal to sexual predators that you will not stand for them using the site to sexually exploit children and women.

You argue that there are other online sites that advertise sex ads. Yes, the signers of this letter are aware of other sites with adult ads, and we are working to address those sites as well. But frankly, the user volume and name recognition of those sites pales in comparison to yours. They are not a household name like Craigslist.

We collectively feel that if you are seriously committed to ending the site’s use as a platform for sex trafficking of women and children, you will apply the same approach you recently took in the United States and immediately close the remaining Erotic sections around the world.

If you continue to keep the Erotic sections outside of the United States, we ask that you at least be honest and more specific about the reasons why you are keeping them. After receiving this letter, please do not claim that it is because anti-trafficking “experts” agree with you and wholly support your approach. In closing, we note that in one of Jim Buckmaster’s recent letters, he asked the question: “Would it not be a step backward to confine adult ads to venues that don’t cooperate with law enforcement, that don’t care what advocacy groups and nonprofits have to say?”3

This statement seems to indicate that Craigslist does care what advocacy groups and nonprofits have to say, more than other venues. If this is true, then you must care about this letter. Please hear what we have to say, read the signers of this letter, and recognize that the anti-trafficking field is standing with solidarity and unity, and collectively asking you to take down all the Adult and Erotic sections worldwide, completely and permanently.

1 Buckmaster, Jim. “An Open Invitation to Rachel Lloyd.” Craigslist Blog. 11 May 2010. Available at (visited September 13, 2010).
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.

To see who signed this letter
p 4
Bradley Myles Executive Director & CEO Polaris Project
Carol Smolenski Executive Director & Co-Founder ECPAT-USA
Kaffie McCullough Campaign Director A Future. Not A Past.
Lee Rope-Batker President & Chief Executive Officer Women’s Foundation of Minnesota
Vednita Carter Executive Director & Founder Breaking Free
Andrea Powell Executive Director & Co-Founder FAIR Fund
Norma Ramos, Esq. Executive Director Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW)
Laura J. Lederer President Global Centurion
Kevin Bales President & Co-founder Free the Slaves
Rachel Lloyd Founder & Executive Director Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS)
Maria A. Trujillo Executive Director Houston Rescue & Restore Coalition
Malika Saada Saar Executive Director & Founder The Rebecca Project for Human Rights
Eliza Reock Executive Director Harold & Kayrita Anderson Family Foundation
Linda Smith (U.S. Congress 1994-98) Founder & President Shared Hope International
Jennifer & Peter Buffett Co-Chairs NoVo Foundation
Lisa L. Thompson Liaison for the Abolition of Sexual Trafficking The Salvation Army National Headquarters USA
Suzanne Koepplinger Executive Director Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC)
Sonia Ossorio Executive Director National Organization for Women, New York City Chapter (NOW-NYC)
Amb. Mark P. Lagon International Relations Chair Georgetown University MSFS Program
Tina Frundt Executive Director & Founder Courtney’s House
Michele Garnett McKenzie Director of Advocacy The Advocates for Human Rights
Rachel Durchslag Executive Director Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE)
Marisa Ugarte Executive Director Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition (BSCC)
William Livermore Executive Director Somaly Mam Foundation
Lisa Goldblatt Grace Program Director My Life, My Choice
Frank Massolini Director PROMISE Program The Salvation Army
Laura Penny Executive Director Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona
Matthew R. Dorozenski Director The Barnaba Institute
Debi M. Harris Chief Executive Officer Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade
Carol B. Penick Executive Director Women’s Fund of Mississippi
Dorchen A. Leidholdt Director, Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services Sanctuary for Families
Elaine Maly Executive Director Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee Central Ohio Rescue & Restore Coalition
Cassondra Johnson Blackbird Executive Director Sexual Assault Program of Beltrami, Cass & Hubbard Counties
Chris Newlin Executive Director National Children’s Advocacy Center
Heather Arnet Chief Executive Officer Women & Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania
Donna M. Hughes Professor & Carlson Endowed Chair Women’s Studies Program University of Rhode Island
Sharon Simpson-Joseph Executive Director Juvenile Justice Fund
Marissa Castellanos Human Trafficking Project Manager Catholic Charities of Louisville
Michelle Miller Executive Director Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity (REED) Ronna L. Bright Project Coordinator Central Valley Against Human Trafficking & Central Valley Freedom Coalition
Tania DoCarmo Director & Vice President Chab Dai USA
Helen Sworn Director & Founder Chab Dai Coalition
Kristy Childs Executive Director & Founder Veronica’s Voice
Mark & Keisha Hoerner Ethical Living, Inc.
Sara K. Gould President & CEO Ms. Foundation for Women
Diana Mao President NOMI Network
Melanie Shapiro Co-Founder Citizens Against Trafficking
Mary Frances Bowley President Wellspring Living, Inc.
Jennifer Mitchell Site Manager Chicago PROMISE Program The Salvation Army
Anne Lee President & CEO Darkness to Light
Daria Mueller Policy Specialist Prostitution Alternatives Round Table (PART) of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Glenda L. McClendon Office Manager PACE Center for Girls, Inc.
Barbara Mosacchio Chief Executive Officer Atlanta Women’s Foundation
Gordon Heller Chair, Steering Committee Dayton Southeast Weed & Seed Project
Dr. Daniel Bercu President Doctors at War on Trafficking in Persons
Colette Bercu Director Free for Life International
Carol Arthur Executive Director Domestic Abuse Project
Marcia Coné Executive Director Women’s Fund of Rhode Island
Kara Fagan Director The Women’s Fund of Great Chattanooga
Nicola Goren President Washington Area Women’s Foundation
Charlotte Boatwright President Chattanooga Domestic Violence Coalition
Emily Fitchpatrick Founder & President On Eagles Wings Ministries & The Hope House
Pam Strickland Founder Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now
Victor Veith Director National Child Protection Training Center (NCPTC)
Madeliene H. Dobbins Director & Chief Administrative Officer Delta Research & Educational Foundation
Deborah Sigmund Founder & Director Innocents at Risk
Benjamin Nolot Founder Exodus Cry
Sidney Ford Director & Founder You Are Never Alone (YANA)
Jeff Bauer Director Public Policy & Civic Engagement The Family Partnership
Anna Rodriguez Executive Director & Founder Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking
Melissa Gifford Executive Director & DVTF Team Coordinator Four Points, Inc.
Kathryn Xian Non-Executive Director & Founder Girl Fest Hawaii
Stephanie Davis Executive Director Georgia Women for Change, Inc.
Stacia Freeman Executive Director The Home Foundation
Erik Voss Executive Director The International Center of Atlanta
Sandra J. Robinson Program Coordinator Western Kentucky Refugee Mutual Assistance The International Center of Bowling & Owensboro
Danelle Ragoonanan-Storph Director Project Rescue & Assist New Americans International Institute of Connecticut, Inc.
Kathy Maskell US Prevention Advisor Love146
End Internet Trafficking Coalition
Marie Morin Eastern Regional Director Long Island Task Force Love146
The Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition
Donna Dunn Executive Director Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA)
Cyndi Cook Executive Director Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women
Claudia Barlow Chair of the Board Miramed
Jeannette Pai-Espinosa President The National Crittenton Foundation
Veronica Lamb Outreach Director Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery
Sandra L. Hollett Chief Executive Officer Partnership for Families, Children & Adults
Dianne Post Attorney Phoenix Women Take Back the Night
Kristyn Komarnicki Editor PRISM Magazine Evangelicals for Social Action
Candice Harshner Executive Director Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA)
Donna Sabella Director Project Phoenix
Trisha Smouse Anti-Human Trafficking Program Manager The Salvation Army of Central Ohio
Amy L. Hartman Diaconal Minister & National Director Cherish Our Children
Kathie Logan Program Manager Sexual Assault Center of NWGA
8th Day Center for Justice
Cordelia Anderson Co-Director Sexual Health & Responsibility Program (SHARP)
Renee Morrison Chairman & Founder In My Backyard Foundation
Gregory Marx Director In My Backyard Foundation
Adeyemi Oshodi Director of Anti-Trafficking Programs World Hope International (WHI)
Ann Buwulda President Jubilee Campaign USA
Serena Connelly Co-Founder Human Rights Initiative of North Texas
Holy Union Sisters
Central Dallas Ministries

9 thoughts on “US anti-traffickers think they have a ‘global responsibility’: just more imperialism

  1. Dave

    If there is anything that seems clear to me, it’s that these organizations are not in the least bit concerned with women and children. I believe they have simply dressed up a moral crusade against prostitution (and most other kinds of sex work) to look like a mission to save children (and if you save only one it will all be worth it). To them, young victims are props to be rolled out to appeal to people’s natural compassion for children and get them to set aide any skepticism. One thing seems certain: closing down Craigslist adult services did absolutely zip to benefit women or children and probably did some serious harm. Doing it on a global level will just deliver that harm to a larger population.

    If you went to a good marketing outfit and told them you want to launch a crusade against prostitution in a way that really motivates a huge unquestioning mob, makes powerful headlines while steering journalists away from any critical analysis, and brings in lots of contributions and funding, that marketing outfit would delver a plan that looks identical to what we’re seeing in the so-called rescue movement.

    No one who questions the way these people operate could possibly believe their mission is what they say it is. Their statistical claims reek of intentional deception and their actions belie a goal far different from what they profess. What they call a success has nothing to do with helping anyone. It’s about pushing behavior they disapprove deeper into the shadows so they can claim to have brought morality to the neighborhood (or the entire planet).

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