Saturday, November 08, 2008

I have gotten so many emails about Craiglist's supposed "crackdown" on prostitution that I thought I'd give you all a quick answer about it. And that answer is: Good, it'll keep out the riff-raff.

That may surprise you. But there's two parts to this, so let's break it down.

The first is the "Craigslist charging for ads that used to be free" aspect. To that I say: hey, that's capitalism in action, my friends. People who are selling sex - which many people would also prefer to get for free - should not get pissy that they'll no longer get to place free ads to do that. That's just the cost of doing business.

Then there's the law enforcement angle. The story says the Craigslist will supply LE with advertiser's billing information if they are subpoenaed. Well, yeah. I'm guessing any business that sells ads - The Stranger, The Weekly, Eros Guide - would have to do that. Regardless of what certain Republicans seem to think, when you get a subpoena, that means you have to comply. That being said, I am not aware of any of those places actually being subpoenaed.

Why not? Because if you want to arrest prostitutes - especially the type of prostitute who advertises on Craigslist - it ain't all that difficult. You call them up and you get in the room with them and when the time is right, you whip out the badge and take them downtown. I'm not saying I like it, I'm just saying that most of the time, getting a judge to give you a subpoena is unnecessary. Simple prostitution - one woman, working for herself - is a misdemeanor. Statistically, the majority of women who work for themselves do not get arrested, because unless there's a lot of complaints about her, LE has bigger fish to fry.

What subpoenas are about is busting the people who run large-group operations. And if you're running a whole bunch of women on Craigslist, then chances are, you're a pimp. And I don't mean the honest and fair owner of an escort service, I mean a pimp. That's what I see on Craigslist. I don't like pimps, in case that wasn't clear. To me a pimp = a bad person who exploits and coerces women into sex work, or even flat-out forces them. I would not be a bit sorry to see someone like that get arrested.

I believe that there are probably a few honest escort-service owners who use Craigslist. To them I say: You are dealing in felony territory here, so I hope you have a lawyer on retainer, and I hope you understand the risks inherent in the business that you're running. It's my opinion that on the list of ways you might get busted, Craigslist giving up your data is probably the least-likely scenario. But I'd get off there anyway, it's not doing your business image any good.

I think this decision by Craigslist will also help keep under-18 people off the site, and that's also good. Whether they want to be sex-workers when they grow up, they should not be doing it underage.

I think it will also calm down the citizen's complaints, because Craigslist is the place where people who are not looking for sex workers are most likely to stumble across them, and be all outraged about it. It's the online equivalent of soliciting in front of a neighborhood flea market, with families coming in and out. That's just not what you should be doing. It gets people all upset and draws down the heat. Would it be nice if prostitution wasn't illegal so we didn't have to worry about this? Yeah, that would be great. But that's not the reality.

The people who really have my support in sex work are the independent businesswomen like myself, and people who run honest and professional businesses arranging dates between adult contractors and clients. I think those people are unlikely to be strongly affected by the Craigslist's decision.