M. Spencer Green/AP
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announces
at a news conference that he has filed
suit in U.S. District Court against the
owner of the website Craigslist.

Prostitutes Leave the Streets to Sell Their Services Online

April 29, 2009 07:20 AM
by Rachel Balik
In the wake of recent murders connected to Craigslist, authorities have expressed concern about the exotic services advertised via the popular classified ad site.

Craigslist Erotic Ads Section Serves as Marketplace for Prostitutes

In Anchorage, Alaska, police have worked hard to keep the streets free of prostitutes. But perhaps their success has something to do with the fact that many prostitutes now prefer to advertise their services on the Web, rather than on the street corner. A city prosecutor told the Anchorage Daily News that the prostitutes who work online are “better organized and they're commanding higher prices.” One Boston prostitute told Reuters that while walking the street was unthinkable to her, selling herself through Craigslist ads was “easy.”

But the ills of the industry don’t go away simply because it has moved online. At least three people who have placed ads on Craigslist requesting or selling intimate services have been attacked or murdered.

The Boston prostitute said that she now carries a weapon and insists on calling her customers at their workplace before meeting them, but the murders have not stopped her from selling her services. Lawmakers have their own way of dealing with the problem: they want Craigslist to stop running prostitution ads.

Craiglist Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster has agreed that changes must be made to eliminate illegal activity. As per an agreement made this fall with 40 states, the site has already established stricter policies for the erotic ads section, demanding that advertisers pay using a credit card and provide a phone number. But the question remains: If two people meet one another on Craigslist and become involved in a crime, is the site at least partially responsible for that crime? Harvard Law School Professor John Palfrey said that a new field of online media liability law is emerging to answer such questions.

Craiglist, a 14-year-old international company generating 50 million page views per month, is staffed by a mere 28 employees. Authorities have suggested hiring someone to screen all ads in the erotic section. But the Anchorage Daily News noted that the Internet provides a degree of anonymity that impedes investigations.

Related Topic: The Craigslist Killer

Early in April 2009, police reported that a 26-year-old model and aspiring actress, Julissa Brisman of New York, had been murdered at a Boston hotel. The Daily News reported that Brisman advertised private massages on Craiglist. The person who answered her ad shot her in her hotel room, where police found a massage table set up.

The suspect struck again in Rhode Island, attempting to rob a woman who advertised lap dances through the site. The incident occurred two days after Brisman’s murder, and police believed it was the same man, The Boston Herald reported.

Through the use of surveillance cameras, police were able to identify a suspect and took Phillip Markoff into custody. According to Fox News, the 22-year-old Markoff is a premed student at Boston University and is implicated in the Rhode Island robbery, the murder of Brisman and an earlier robbery of a prostitute, also in her hotel room.

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