Cook County sheriff sues Craigslist over sex ads

Cook County’s sheriff filed a federal lawsuit against Craigslist on Thursday, saying the popular online classifieds site promotes and facilitates prostitution on a massive scale.

Cook County’s sheriff filed a federal lawsuit against Craigslist on Thursday, saying the popular online classifieds site promotes and facilitates prostitution on a massive scale. Sheriff Tom Dart wants Craigslist to eliminate its "erotic services" section, suggesting that many of the section’s ads are blatant solicitations for prostitution. "Missing children, runaways, abused women and women trafficked in from foreign countries are routinely forced to have sex with strangers because they’re being pimped on Craigslist," Dart said. In a news release, Dart cited ads such as "Teens for cash … $100 quickie" and "Are you looking to make some good money in this tough economy? Minimum pay is $25 per hour … performing duties specified in Naughty Nannies handbook." San Francisco-based Craigslist did not immediately return e-mail and telephone message seeking comment. Telephone and e-mail messages also were left for the company’s public relations firm. Craigslist allows users to post classified ads and other items and, like many other sites, generally doesn’t check the postings or remove them unless it receives complaints. Federal law offers broad immunity to service providers for content posted by users, as long as they respond to specific complaints. "Erotic services" ads posted on Craigslist have resulted in several prostitution arrests nationwide. Federal prosecutors charged a New York man in November with being a violent pimp who forced young girls and women into prostitution, alleging he advertised the services of women between the ages of 15 and 20. And in January, two Wisconsin women were charged with misdemeanor prostitution after allegedly offering sex for money in Craigslist ads. Dart said Thursday’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chicago follows repeated requests for Craigslist to shut down the "erotic services" section. In recent weeks, Dart said, one of his own officers — writing as a 15-year-old girl — posted ads for sex on the site that generated responses from several people, including a convicted sex offender. Craigslist had reached an agreement in November with attorneys general in Connecticut, Illinois and several other states that called for the company to crack down on prostitution ads. The Connecticut Attorney General’s office had contacted the site after receiving several complaints about photographs depicting nudity. Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist’s CEO, said at the time that the agreement would allow legitimate escort services to continue advertising, while discouraging illegal activity by requiring anyone posting "erotic services" ads to provide a working phone number and pay a fee with a valid credit card. Craigslist also agreed to provide that information to law enforcement if subpoenaed. At the time, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who brokered the agreement, said Craigslist cooperated fully and there never was a need to threaten the company with legal action. "I am fully convinced that Craigslist wants to stop this activity as much as we do," Blumenthal said then. Also in November, Craigslist filed lawsuits against more than a dozen software and Internet companies that help people who post erotic service ads to circumvent the Web site’s defenses against inappropriate content and illegal activity.

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