Monday, September 6, 2010

Malika Saada Saar Speaks Truth to Craigslist's Contentions that Human Trafficking is a Fundamental Speech Right and that They Have been "Censored"

The word "censored" has replaced "adult" on Craigslist's services list.

In this video, Malika Saada Saar of The Rebecca Project for Human Rights and girls who have been trafficked by pimps and made available for rape on Craigslist speak out:

Craigslist cannot seem to accept that eliminating a link allowing human trafficking isn't a matter of "protecting free speech" as much as it's a matter of protecting the human rights of trafficked people from pimps and other predators, including procurers and consumers of trafficked humans.

How callous and privileged do the owner, executives, and administrators of a company have to be to accept as inevitable the practice of human trafficking and sexual slavery? How callous and privileged do they have to be to see it as a speech right to have access to trafficked people? How is that a primarily or most pertinently matter of speech? (And whose speech matters here, anyway?)

Is "protecting men's right and access to rentable or purchasable human beings for gross sexual exploitation and rape" really a right located and contained within the First Amendment? Is making human trafficking more difficult to accomplish and advertise most importantly an issue of some people being silenced? And within what ethical framework do we come to the conclusion that pimps and procurers' speech is more important than trafficked people's right to not be silenced by rape and other gross sexual abuse?

That Craigslist callously placed the word "censored" over its "adult services" link is not an indication to me that they "get it" about trafficking at all. First, it's disingenuous of Craigslist administrators to pretend that their point of upset is on the level of limits placed on allegedly "free speech".  If it weren't for the fact that there "adult services" formerly termed "erotic services" was earning them a third of their annual profits, they wouldn't be so patriarchally pissed off to begin with. A "censor" is a State act, not an act of protest. People organising to protest human trafficking happening with Craigslist's participation isn't censoring of or to them. It is asking them to be accountable to what they are doing, and not pretend it is "adult" when children are involved or "erotic" when rape is involved.

Why the claim to being victimised by State censors (i.e., being "censored") when attorneys general wrote a request asking them to remove a service that requires child rape, sexual slavery and trafficking of women? How does the expression of speech by attorneys general and many public human rights advocates amount to an act of silencing Craigslist. They could have said "No" of course. There's no reason that couldn't have been their response, in "speech". That they elected to remove the link is something they can be responsible about or pass off as something they were somehow forced to do.

I am reminded of how attempts to hold battering husbands accountable and prevent them from obtaining on-going access to those spouses and children they abuse is posited by their activists and attorneys as "invasions of their rights", as if it ought to be considered a right to batter and abuse. In what ethical paradigm? A patriarchal one, perhaps. But in context of respecting the rights of all humans to be free from economic and political coercion and force leading directly to ones entrapment in systems of gross sexual abuse, the speech that ought to be seen as in need of protection is that of the raped and trafficked, not of the rapists and pimps.

Craigslist's "adult services" has been a portal through which predators access children so that the adults can rape the child. In a land ruled by the values of pimp-speech, wouldn't that be more appropriately be termed "child services"?

Does disingenuously denying the existence of child rape make something "adults-only"? I don't think so.

That extremely profitable part of their business used to be called "erotic services" until people complained that that language was misleading. What, after all, is erotic about human trafficking? And if human trafficking is your idea of "eroticism" does that mean you should be "free" to engage in "erotic activities"? I'd say no, if the rights of the trafficked matter as much as the rights of the pimps and procurers.

I wonder if sexism-positive liberals will make the case that sexually violating and traumatic acts that only occur due to human beings being systematically and internationally trafficked are "victimless" the way they do about "prostitution". If  "prostitution" requires trafficking and rape, pimping and procuring, how does such activity not involve victimisation?

What pimps and procurers want us all to believe is that SOME class of children and women WANT to be trafficked, pimped, raped, and otherwise sexually exploited and abused. Their moral argument is that depriving that class of people the right to do what they are, according to pimps and procurers, on the Earth to do, is to limit their freedom. In what ethical universe is it a form of freedom for some classes or populations of people to be raped and enslaved?

To follow the logical phallusies of pimp-speech, one arrives at a peculiar place in time and space where being a slave is an act of volition not violation, agency not aggression, will not warfare, and discretion not domination. Only through the political prism of entitled and protected predation does one conclude that abolition work amounts to acts of censorship.

I reject pimp-speech--a coercive call to be a sexual slave in conditions where not being a slave results in gross deprivation of means of survival or death--as existing to liberate anyone. I reject Craigslist's claim that they have been censored as not only erroneous, but egregiously self-serving, by pretending that prostitutes' and pimps' speech is even the issue here. The issue is they want that third of their profits, annually. Why can't Craigslist's "spokespeople" exercise their responsibility to speak honestly about their wish to continue to allow human trafficking for the primary purpose of making money for pimps, with themselves as one of the pimps?

Why have they been "censoring" themselves from speaking the truth about what they have been doing in order to make money at great cost to girls' lives?

What follows next is from *here*:
Rebecca Project on CNN

Craigslist's shame: Child sex ads
by Malika Saada Saar, Special to CNN
Source CNN

Editor's note: Malika Saada Saar is the founder and executive director of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights. The Rebecca Project is a nonprofit organization that advocates for justice, dignity and policy reform for vulnerable women and girls in the United States and in Africa.

(CNN) -- Last month, two girls trafficked for sex through the website Craigslist wrote an open letter to its founder, Craig Newmark, pleading with him to get rid of the adult services section, where sex ads are placed.

"I was first forced into prostitution when I was 11 years old by a 28-year-old man," "M.C." wrote. "I am not an exception. The man who trafficked me sold many girls my age, his house was called 'Daddy Day Care.'

"All day, me and other girls sat with our laptops, posting pictures and answering ads on Craigslist. He made $1,500 a night selling my body, dragging me to Los Angeles, Houston, Little Rock -- and one trip to Las Vegas in the trunk of a car. I am 17 now, and my childhood memories aren't of my family, going to middle school, or dancing at the prom. They are making my own arrangements on Craigslist to be sold for sex, and answering as many ads as possible for fear of beatings and ice water baths."

No one from Craigslist responded to M.C.

According to the most recent Department of Justice statistics, an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 children are sold for sex every year in the United States. Most are from 11 and 14 years old. Try for a moment to imagine your fifth-grade child, niece or sister, sold for sex.

If you live in a city, imagine that happening within one square mile of where you are right now. New York, Ohio, Georgia, Oregon and California have among the highest rates of trafficked teens. And it turns out that the best-known online trading post is not some sleazy child porn website, but the ubiquitous Craigslist, where you shop for cars, clothes and musical instruments.

Law enforcement officials and anti-trafficking organizations have repeatedly asked Craigslist to rein in its sex ads in an effort to stop the selling of children for sex.

Craig Newmark and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster have made some efforts to screen the site for children sold for sex and cooperate with law enforcement investigations. But for the most part, they have ignored such pleas, maybe because they just made an estimated $36 million in profits from these sex ads in the last year alone.

Read Craigslist's answer to these accusations

While Craigslist has made selling children a virtual stop-and-shop for predators, it alone doesn't by any means account for the explosion of child trafficking. Prostituting children has become a growth business for all sorts of criminal elements because it is hugely profitable and virtually unprosecuted.

The U.S. government annually spends 300 times more money to fight drug trafficking than it does to fight human trafficking, and the criminal penalties for trafficking cocaine, for example, are 20 times greater than the criminal penalties levied against those who buy and sell girls.

Although the government estimates hundreds of thousands of children have been sold for sex, only a few hundred of the pimps who victimize them have been prosecuted. Almost none of the "Johns" are prosecuted.

Let's be clear. The men who purchase girls for sex are no different from men who snatch children off the street for sex. Both are rapists. Period.

Whatever the circumstances, no child wants to sell her body to a stranger. In fact, no child is permitted to sell her body -- the law says they can't consent.

Yet arresting these perpetrators of child rape is rare, and prosecution is even rarer, according to the international anti-trafficking organization Shared Hope. Actress Demi Moore, who has vigorously joined the campaign against trafficking girls, calls it America's "dirty little secret." And it's true that while we applaud efforts to end trafficking in Cambodia or India, the similar plight of disadvantaged girls in this country is routinely ignored.

Changing this shameful situation requires three things:

First, the commitment of state and local governments to prosecute the men who buy and sell underage girls for sex to the full extent of the law. Those laws exist, yet they are rarely enforced.

Second, residential treatment must be available for girls rescued from trafficking, where they can feel safe and begin to heal. This will require recognizing that the sexual exploitation of underage girls is a human rights issue, as we have already done when it involves young girls in the developing world.

Third, Craigslist should set the industry example and shut down the adult services section until it can create a comprehensive surveillance and monitoring system that ensures children are not being bought and sold for sex.

You can do that, Craig. It might not stop child trafficking, but it will save many children like M.C. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Malika Saada Saar.

For more on the project of the video-makers visit The Rebecca Project website.

What follows is from The New York Times. Click on the title to link back.

Some See a Ploy as Craigslist Blocks Sex Ads

Published: September 5, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — Craigslist, by shutting off its “adult services” section and slapping a “censored” label in its place, may be engaging in a high-stakes stunt to influence public opinion, some analysts say.


The word “censored” has replaced “adult” on Craigslist's services list.

Since blocking access to the ads as the Labor Day weekend began — and suspending a revenue stream that could bring in an estimated $44 million this year — Craigslist has refused to discuss its motivations. But using the word “censored” suggests that the increasingly combative company is trying to draw attention to its fight with state attorneys general over sex ads and to issues of free speech on the Internet.

The law has been on Craigslist’s side. The federal Communications Decency Act protects Web sites against liability for what their users post on the sites. And last year, the efforts of attorneys general were stymied when a federal judge blocked South Carolina’s attorney general from prosecuting Craigslist executives for listings that resulted in prostitution arrests.

“It certainly appears to be a statement about how they feel about being judged in the court of public opinion,” said Thomas R. Burke, a First Amendment lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine who specializes in Internet law and does not work for Craigslist. “It’s certainly the law that they’re not liable for it, but it’s another matter if the attorneys general are saying change your ways.”

Attorneys general and advocacy groups have continued to pressure the company to remove the “adult services” section. A letter from 17 state attorneys general dated Aug. 24 demanded that Craigslist close the section, contending that it helped facilitate prostitution and the trafficking of women and children.

The “adult services” section of Craigslist was still blocked in the United States on Sunday evening. “Sorry, no statement,” Susan MacTavish Best, Craigslist’s spokeswoman, wrote on Sunday in response to an e-mail message.

Analysts said that if the block was a temporary statement of protest, it could backfire because of the avalanche of news coverage that the site had received for taking down the ads.

“I’m very convinced that this is permanent, even if it was not their intention to make it permanent,” said Peter M. Zollman, founding principal of the Advanced Interactive Media Group, a consulting firm that follows Craigslist closely. “I think it will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to go back and reopen that section without really running into a buzzsaw of negative publicity and reaction.”

Attorneys general in several states said they had so far been unable to get any information from Craigslist.

“If this announcement is a stunt or a ploy, it will only redouble our determination to pursue this issue with Craigslist, because they would be in a sense be thumbing their nose at the public interest,” Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general who has headed the campaign against Craigslist, said in an interview by phone on Sunday.

Mr. Blumenthal said Craigslist’s outside lawyer had been in touch with his office, but that the lawyer had not clarified whether the shutdown of the section was permanent, or said when Craigslist might make a statement.

Even though courts have said that Craigslist is protected under federal law, Mr. Blumenthal said part of his mission was to rally public support to change federal law.

“Raising public awareness is extraordinarily important, because it increases support for changes in the law that will hold them accountable,” he said. “Their view of the law, which is blanket immunity for every site on the Internet, never has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court, and I think there is some serious doubt.”

Richard Cordray, the Ohio attorney general, said in an interview by phone on Sunday: “We’re taking it at face value. I think it’s a step forward, maybe grudging, in response to the efforts of the attorneys general.”

But Lisa Madigan, the attorney general of Illinois, was more skeptical about Craigslist’s intentions. “Certainly because of the way they did it,” she said, “it leaves an open question as to whether this is truly the end of adult services on Craigslist or if this is just a continuing battle.”

For a site that prides itself on being a neighborly town square, Craigslist has been increasingly pugnacious in response to its critics.

Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist’s chief executive, has written screeds on the company blog explaining and defending Craigslist’s efforts to combat sex crimes, including manually screening sex ads and meeting with advocacy groups.

“Craigslist is committed to being socially responsible, and when it comes to adult services ads, that includes aggressively combating violent crime and human rights violations, including human trafficking and the exploitation of minors,” he wrote last month.

But he also uses the blog to lash out at eBay, an investor and a competitor that also has a sex ads service, and Craigslist critics and reporters who question Craigslist’s actions on sex ads.

Last month, Amber Lyon of CNN reported about sex ads on Craigslist and questioned Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist and who is no longer a manager at the company, outside a conference where he spoke about a different topic.

In a blog post addressed to Ms. Lyon, Mr. Buckmaster responded: “There is a class of ‘journalists’ known for gratuitously trashing respected organizations and individuals, ignoring readily available facts in favor of rank sensationalism and self-promotion. They work for tabloid media.”

And he wrote a sarcastic post titled “Advocate Indeed” in response to a television appearance by Malika Saada Saar, executive director of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, a nonprofit group that has urged Craigslist to shut the sex ads section.

Though sex ads on Craigslist are the most salacious example of the debate over free speech on the Internet, it is a battle being waged across the Web. Yelp, the review site for local businesses, has been repeatedly sued by small businesses for what its users write. The suits have been dismissed by courts citing the Communications Decency Act or withdrawn by defendants once they learned about Web sites’ immunity, said Vince Sollitto, a Yelp spokesman.

Some Internet law experts say the issue strikes at the heart of free speech. “For the government to intervene in Internet communication, it has to do that very carefully,” said Margaret M. Russell, a law professor at Santa Clara University in California. “The ultimate goal, public safety, is really important, but these are venues of free speech communication. They’re not conspirators in crimes.”

The erotic services categories are still accessible on Craigslist sites outside the United States, and the personals section of the site is still active. Craigslist has said that if it takes down the “adult services” section, sex ads will simply migrate to other parts of the site.

Doubts about whether the block on the sex ads section is permanent are fueled by the prospect of Craigslist losing a significant amount of money. The ads, which cost $10 to post and $5 to repost, are expected to bring in $44.4 million this year, about a third of Craigslist’s annual revenue, according to the Advanced Interactive Media Group.

Still, it is difficult to predict the motives of the company, which employs about 30 people and operates in a quirky, opaque and at times petulant manner.

“It would surprise me if they didn’t try to find a workable solution to reintroduce some of that income,” said M. Ryan Calo, a senior research fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. “Although, that said, Craigslist is not your typical company in the sense that it doesn’t seem to be exclusively motivated by profit.”

Craigslist Blocks Access to ‘Adult Services’ Pages (September 5, 2010)

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