Sept. 6, 2010 — -- A girl being trafficked in Kansas is now safe and getting help after she watched an Aug. 10 "World News" report exploring whether Craigslist was a site for sex slaves.
Malika Saada Saar, executive director and founder of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, said in an e-mail that "because of your beautiful report, a girl being trafficked in Kansas saw the report, ran away from the pimp and called us. ... One less girl has been hurt. Thank you."
Since the "World News" story aired, Craigslist has removed the "adult services" category, under pressure from a group of attorneys general from several states. In its place, Craigslist has posted a black banner with the word "CENSORED."
Still, the virtual red-light district has hardly disappeared. Plenty of ads for adult services can still be found in plain sight on Craigslist. They've simply migrated to a different category called "casual encounters."
Below is the "World News" original story titled "Craigslist: Site for Sex Slaves?"
In the adult section of the popular website Craigslist, it looks as though the world's oldest profession has met up with modern technology, with a number of women offering companionship for a certain price.
But are all the femme fatales featured online consenting adults, or sex slaves?
Many took notice of the issue after two self-described "Survivors of Craigslist Sex Trafficking" took out a half-page advertisement in last Friday's Washington Post. Directed at 'Craig,' or the site's founder Craig Newmark, the girls began by saying they "are certain you would not want what happened to us or to thousands of girls like us to ever happen again."
Their stories, briefly recounted in graphic and grim detail, describe the horrors of what happened to them. One of the young women, who goes by "AK," describes how she met a man twice her age who posted her photo online and essentially ended her life as she knew it.
"I was sold for sex by the hour at truck stops and cheap motels -- 10 hours with 10 different men every night," AK recounted. "It was stressful, because like once one person was gone, the next person was waiting in the parking lot."
AK told ABC News that pimps had moved her from city to city and pocketed any money she earned, and would punish her if she ever tried to quit.
But AK was not alone. Another girl, "MC," recounts in the Washington Post ad how she and other girls "sat with our laptops, posting pictures and answering ads on Craigslist," with her pimp making upwards of $1,500 a night. She even remembered one trip in which she was kept in the trunk of a car all the way to Las Vegas.
"Craig," pleaded MC, "we write this letter so you will know from our personal experiences how Craigslist makes horrific acts like this so easy to carry out, and the men who carry out, and men who arrange them very rich."
Prostitution Same as Crack Cocaine?
Just recently, a 26-year-old District of Columbia man named Brandon Petty pleaded guilty in connection with two sexual assaults of women he met through Craigslist. Evidence suggests that the first incident took place on Sept. 8, 2009, in which he grabbed the victim by the hair, placed a knife to her throat and demanded money. A similar situation occurred on April 21, 2010. He now faces up to 30 years in prison.
"I do think it's fair to call it both trafficking and sexual exploitation," said Malika Saada Saar, executive director and founder of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, a non-profit assisting the two young women. "I think in the same way that we can't sell crack cocaine over Craigslist, we can't allow prostitution to happen over Craigslist."
Attorneys general from 39 states are currently monitoring adult postings on Craigslist for what they say is blatant prostitution.
ABC News reached Craigslist founder Craig Newmark by telephone. He declined comment, referring us instead to the company CEO Jim Buckmaster. Buckmaster could not be reached for an interview.
In a response posted yesterday morning to the Craigslist blog, "Jim," believed to be company CEO Jim Buckmaster, said the company is dedicated to improving preventative measures to ensure the safety of potential sex trafficking victims. Addressed to both AK and MC, the note went on to say that the online community was keen on doing everything possible to assist with their cases.
"We work with law enforcement to bring to justice any criminals foolish enough to incriminate themselves by misusing our site," read the entry. "If anyone committing such crimes has not yet been apprehended and prosecuted, we want to do everything in our power to assist the police in making that happen."
But, the post said that "criminal misuse of the site is quite rare," considering the fact that more than 50 million Americans use Craigslist. It also said that the site is "one of the few bright spots" when it comes to fighting against child exploitation, adding that the company manually screens each adult services advertisement to preclude ads for prostitution. The company also requires a phone number with such a post, and created a special victim search interface for law enforcement.
The company reportedly collects $10 to $15 for every adult ad, bringing in an estimated $36 million a year.
"We are not content however," concluded the entry, "and are committed to making further progress."
"Where Is Your Outrage?"
Officials with the Rebecca Project said they were "very disappointed" by the site's response, particularly because they consider the website to play a major role in the sex trafficking industry that affects as many as 300,000 American children each year.
"Craig, where is your outrage that your site is being used to commit such horrible crimes?" the group asked in a letter to Newmark. "We are asking you to take responsiblity, ownership and adequate action for the website that bears your name."
However some members of the on-line community feel Craigslist owes no apology. In response to "Jim's" blog post, commentator "Mike" said the blame should instead be placed on the site's users, particularly those who do not flag any of the suspicious ads that facilitate trafficking. According to the site's Terms of Service, a point emphasized by "Mike," users are required to report any sort of criminal behavior.
"Craigslist is a reflection of society, not a contributor to its problems," wrote "Mike."
But, AK said the problems run even deeper than that, since the site profits at the expense of girls like her.
Asked if she saw Craig Newmark as a pimp, AK flatly replied: "Yes, I do. He's collecting money and he's not working for it, just like a pimp doesn't."