Craigslist shuttered its "adult services" section earlier this month, but today the company's executives admitted they have no plans to limit those services on their sites in other countries, including Canada, where Americans can easily place ads.
"Anyone anywhere can access the Craigslist site," William Clinton Powell, the company's law enforcement liaison and director of customer service, said when pressed at a Capitol Hill hearing by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.
Craigslist's attorney, Elizabeth McDougall, defended the decision, arguing that the company doesn't believe "it's appropriate for the U.S. policy to dictate what Canada's policy should be," and Craigslist does not believe that the move to shutter "adult services" is necessarily the right one.
"It's much more difficult to find the victims now that are dispersed on other sites that are non-cooperative," McDougall said.
For years, Craigslist was under fire for its "adult services" section that many groups charged promoted sex trafficking in the United States, especially among minors.
A study by the The Schapiro Group said "Craigslist is by far the most efficient medium for advertising sex with young females; ads on this site received three times as many responses compared to identical ads placed on other sites." Yet, according to law enforcement officials, the company cannot be held liable or charged as a conspirator for sex trafficking.
Another study by AIM Group consultants projected -- before the company decided to put a lid on the section altogether -- that Craigslist would generate almost $45 million in revenue this year from its "adults services" section alone.
Today, Powell -- after first saying he wasn't involved in the decision-making process -- hesitantly told members of Congress that Craigslist would not bring back the controversial category.
"We do not have any intention to bring that category back and that money is not a consideration as we make that decision," Powell told lawmakers today, adding that it would be a "step backward" for the company.
But many are questioning whether adult services ads have really disappeared from the popular Website -- Suggestive and racy ads proposing "casual safe lovemaking" and a "thrilling body massage" are still scattered over the Website.
Lawmakers today praised Craigslist for taking the erotic services section off its website but said more needs to be done.
"Today websites escape liability," said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. Craigslist has been "the 800 pound gorilla in this industry of child trafficking," but it not the "lone wolf."
The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on held a hearing today to discuss the issue of domestic sex trafficking and the "Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010" bill.
The legislation would authorize $45 million in grants to address the issue of sex trafficking of minors, and extend $3.5 million to the Attorney General to improve the National Crime Information Center's database and identify endangered juveniles. The bill also authorizes $1.5 million for annual evaluations.
"Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. It is one of the fastest-growing, and the second largest, criminal enterprise in the world," the bill says.
A study by the University of Pennsylvania, funded by the National Institute of Justice, found that nearly 300,000 American children are at risk each year for sex trafficking, and up to 250,000 children between the ages of 10 and 17 are involved in commercial sexual exploitation. At least 60 percent of those children are runaways, homeless, or have been kicked out of their homes.
The average age of entry for female prostitutes in the United States is between 12 and 14, and children become prime targets for sexual exploitation by organized crime if they are older than 12, according to a 2001 report.
"This is a human tragedy -- a national tragedy," Speier said today. "We have quite literally taken our eyes off the ball."
Research shows that sex trafficking has risen the most in Michigan, New York and Minnesota in the last six months.
Members of Congress today also hammered law enforcement and Department of Justice officials for not spending more time in fighting this problem.
Law enforcement officials say they will need many more resources than they have currently to fully eradicate the problem.
"We need resources to train and educate law enforcement. We need resources to provide for shelters and get these children off the streets," said Nicholas Sensley, police chief in Truckee, Calif. "And that has to be done outside the justice system, with our non-law enforcement partners."