WASHINGTON – Online classifieds giant Craigslist said Wednesday that it would replace its “erotic services” section with a newly created adult category that would be more closely monitored, responding to criticism that its popular Web site has facilitated prostitution across the country.
Craigslist Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster said in a posting to the company’s blog that every ad to the new “adult services” section would be manually reviewed and scrubbed of blatant sex-for-money ads and pornographic pictures. It was unclear, however, exactly how a company that employs 28 people intends to screen the thousands of ads, and what criteria would be used.
The company has been under tremendous pressure to change its practices, particularly since the slaying last month of a woman in Boston who had advertised on the site as a masseuse. Authorities say the erotic services section of Craigslist is widely used by prostitutes, and at least a dozen women in the Washington area have been attacked after offering their services on that site.
Craigslist called the measure an effort to “strike a new balance” on the Web site that draws an estimated 20 billion page views worldwide a month for ads for everything from furniture sales to “casual encounters.”
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a leading critic of Craigslist, said in a statement that the announcement is “a solid next step, not a solution.”
“Closing the erotic services section – a blatant Internet brothel – should lead to other blocking and screening measures, and set a model for other sites, if Craigslist keeps its word.”
Some Washington-area law enforcement officials greeted the company’s announcement with skepticism Wednesday. Inspector Brian Bray, who oversees the Washington D.C. police department’s prostitution unit, said he was concerned the move would prove to be little more than cosmetic.
“I believe it’ll just transfer it over under a different name,” he said. “But we’ll see.”
In February, authorities said a Loudoun County, Va., man used the Web site as part of a prostitution ring involving as many as 400 women across the country.
The company has come under greater pressure since the April 14 slaying of Julissa Brisman in Boston. Philip Markoff, a 23-year-old Boston University medical student, has been charged in her death and in attacks on two other women he met through Craigslist.
States attorneys general in Illinois, Missouri and Connecticut in recent weeks had assailed Craigslist, saying the company did not live up to agreements it made last year to curb prostitution on its site.
The ads on the new adult section will cost $10 but once approved will be eligible to be reposted for $5. In his blog posting, Buckmaster said the site would be open for postings by “legal adult service providers.”