When Craigslist voluntarily blocked their adult services section, the pimps, johns, and traffickers who had been using the site to buy and sell children and victims of human trafficking were, for the first time in ages, briefly lost about where to continue advertising for rape. Lucky for them, Gawker.com stepped in with a helpful guide on how to continue profiting from the sexual exploitation of children. And by sharing their guide to buying sex online with their nearly 20 million readers, Gawker is practically guaranteed to be facilitating more child rape.
Like Craigslist, the sex-for-sale websites Gawker is promoting are a mixed bag of men, women, and transgender individuals voluntarily engaged in prostitution; adults who have been forced or coerced into prostitution; and children. The latter two categories are victims of human trafficking, and online classified ads like Craigslist and the websites in Gawker's guide have played an increasingly large role in facilitating their repeated rape for profit. The demand for commercial sex, which when it outstrips willing suppliers causes human trafficking, is a complex and nuanced phenomenon. It's affected by the price and availability of commercial sex, social norms and laws around buying sex, and potential buyers' ethical views. Craigslist's adult services section and similar sites have provided a space where buying sex is easy, normalized, and anonymous, effectively increasing the demand without increasing the supply. Hence, the human trafficking on online classified sites like Craigslist.
If Craigslist (or any other online classifieds site) wasn't a website, but an abandoned warehouse at the edge of town where children as young as 11 were being bought and sold for sex by dozens of men a night, no one would argue that warehouse's closing impinged upon "freedom of speech." No one would claim, as Danah Boyd on the Huffington Post recently did, that the child sex warehouse should continue to operate since "a one-stop-shop is more helpful for law enforcement." And if the pimps and traffickers were locked out of it one night, no one would publish a guide directing them to other abandoned warehouses they can turn into child sex factories. A website and a warehouse may not be exactly the same, but with this guide Gawker is standing on a virtual street corner directing would-be child traffickers and abusers to new meeting points. And the saddest part is that they really don't seem to understand that's what they're doing.
Gawker and many tech blogs are trying to cast Craigslist's voluntary blocking of their adult services section as forced "censorship" of the site. They're trying to make this a conversation about freedom of speech, not sexual exploitation. They're trying to paint Craigslist as a poor scapegoat, whose only sin was to be the largest and most famous of many websites who exploit children (which they were). It's not true. The campaign to ask Craigslist to stop facilitating the exploitation of human trafficking victims on their site was just one small part of a larger plan anti-trafficking groups are implementing to fight the trade in humans. And Change.org has been running a similar campaign against Backpage.com -- prior to Craigslist's voluntary block. Without Craigslist's adult services section operating, there will now be one less website increasing demand for commercial sex and one less place for child rapists to find victims on the Internet.
Unless, of course, Gawker continues to try and fill that void.
Photo credit: katayun