Was it a case of Flight?— or Fight?
Craig's List has removed its Adult Services section from their bulletin board, under pressure from a McCarthyist collection of "non-profits" (cough cough) and ambitious law enforcement magistrates.
I think their decision was a tactical retreat— with the swipe of a claw. I have no professional interest or investment in CL, nor am I privy to their private discussions. But I have a sense of "deju vu" from previous witchhunts, and a clear memory of CL's origins.
In one keystroke, CL removed themselves as the "Target du Jour" of the Professional Right, the Prig Patrol. In doing so, CL relieves themselves of the Mother of All Nuisance Suits, and simultaneously delivers a big "Fuck You" to their persecutors, a band of opportunists who truly have no motive other than extortion and ego.
CL wants to get out of the script; they are no longer willing to play "Whore of Babylon" to the Kaped Krusaders.
A casual observer may wonder, "Isn't CraigsList worried about women and children ensnared in a web of crime and violence? Don't they care? Aren't the Trafficking-Fighters just decent people trying to save the vulnerable and innocent?"
CL was founded by progressive, feminist, "Isn't-the-Internet-wonderful" Left Coast-type of idealists. Craig Newmark told me that when he was a student at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, he heard me give my lecture on "The Sexual State of the Union," and whispered to himself, "I have GOT to move out to San Francisco."
When he started the CL bulletin board in 1995, (as those of you "back in the day" may remember) it was wide-open. Everything was discussed; nothing was forbidden. Erotic liasons and services were discussed as civilly as selling a refrigerator or planning a group hike up Telegraph Hill to see the wild parrots.
There must've been millions of sexual encounters that started with a CL ad. Grown men and women— fancy that! You could express yourself; people would discuss each ad with amusement, argument, and occasional applause. They were free. They were liberating.
Professional sex workers, male and female, discovered CL as a way to cut through the middleman (the pimp, the madam, the brothel) and deal directly with potential customers. CL ads offered privacy, screening, and real-time editing.
Meanwhile, the newspapers and Yellow Pages continued to sell and offer escort ads, but their benefits paled by comparison.
Of course, there were unhappy consequences too, as with all "classifieds." People got ripped off, misled. I myself bought a freezer that DIDN'T WORK AND THEN THEY NEVER CALLED ME BACK.
You'd show up for a CL-inspired date and Prince Charming would be Butt-Ugly and Flea-Bitten. A friend of mine fell off the wagon responding to a thinly veiled cocaine sales offer. Many ads became spammy and obviously the work of con-artists— just like everywhere else.
None of us, however, blamed Craigs List, per se, but rather the flaws of human nature and the inevitable consequences of "getting too big." Duh. You learned to read carefully.
But the Hooverites who have called for the disembowelment of CL are a different breed. They do not give a rat's ass about children's rights, women's victimization, or anything else. They are the same companies who sponsor "Palin-esque" candidates, Christian Lunacy funds, forced-birthers, racist smear campaigns, gay-hating crusades. What's worse, their leaders are indifferent to their stated "issues"— they believe themselves to be a personal elite, so close to God and Money that what the "little people do" is not relevant to them.
You won't find the anti-Porn, anti-Trafficking Activists in the domestic abuse shelter, the rape crisis hotline, the emergency room, the orphanage, the refugee camps. Heavens, no. They have no interest or knowledge of what goes on in the trenches. They are actively fighting sex workers all over the world who have articulated their needs and rights. They don't want anyone to have any kind of sex they don't sanction. They are FRAUDS.
I don't know if I would've followed CL's strategy, though I symphathize. It was never a matter of money for them, it was the principle— to not be bullied and scapegoated by sleazebags. Should they have continued the fight? They certainly had the law on their side.
The Elecronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU of the Internet, worries that CL's persecutors will just keep hounding them, like a dog who won't let go of their chew toy. They'll want another pound of flesh, and another, until there's nothing left.
Meanwhile, The Web entrepeneurs who have taken Internet adult ads to another level, the private "members only" sites— they're not idealists— and they won't play in the public eye. They have no interest in a political cause. No one wants to fight for sexual speech, even though it's inevitably the cutting edge of the First Amendment.
When I was in London this summer, I was asked at a public event, "How can we make sex work okay?"
I think my questioner longed for a detailed answer to all the injustices, all the frustrations and perils.
But there's only a two-word answer to this question, really: Legalize it. If a pro can't show his or her face in the light of day and say, "This is what I do, I'm a valuable and lawful member of society, I want respect and fairness" — s/he doesn't have a starting place.
The exploiters, whatever costume they're wearing— be it fake savoir or slaver— rely on religion, superstition, and illegality to make their buck. The only way to expose them, truly, is to take away their ax.