Craigslist dropping 'erotic services' ads

RALEIGH Critics have called it a front for prostitution. Instead, the company will replace it with an adult category and will hire an outside company to serve as monitor.

Pressure to remove the category increased this spring after a Boston medical student was charged with killing a masseuse who authorities say he met through Craigslist.

Two months ago, Cook County Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart filed a lawsuit alleging that Craigslist allowed the solicitation of prostitution and had created the "largest source of prostitution in America."

Craigslist fired back in a statement emailed to media outlets.

"Unsurprisingly, but completely contrary to some of the sensationalistic journalism we've seen these past few weeks, the record is clear that use of craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds, let alone rates of violent crime pertaining to American society as a whole," read the statement.

It said that community moderation via its flagging system and its ability to trace posters electronically means that criminals are caught quickly.

Craigslist attorney Eric Brandfonbrener, appearing in federal court for a hearing on the Cook County lawsuit, acknowledged the Web site is eliminating the "erotic services" category. He told U.S. District Judge John Grady that Craigslist is undergoing changes he expects will satisfy the lawsuit's concerns.

"My expectation is that it will be moot," Brandfonbrener told the judge.

Dart attorney Daniel Gallagher said he remained skeptical.

"They've made promises to attorneys general in the past," Gallagher said, noting that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had brokered an agreement with the site in November to crack down on prostitution ads after being contacted about several complaints over photographs depicting nudity.

"I'm not going to take their word for it. We want to see action," Gallagher said.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the attorneys general of Connecticut and Missouri met with Craigslist officials last week seeking an end to ads they contended were advertisements for illegal sexual activities.

Madigan's office said Wednesday such existing ads on the Craigslist Web site will expire in seven days.

"We're very encouraged that Craigslist is doing the right thing in eliminating its online red light district with prostitution and pornography in plain sight. We'll be watching and investigating critically to make sure this measure is more than just a name change," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

"This is a good next step but by no means is it the ultimate or complete solution," he said.

Blumenthal had brokered an agreement with Craigslist in November to crack down on prostitution ads.

In its statement, Craigslist said it has upped the charge for listing in the new "adult services" section. It will now be $10, up from $5. It currently doesn't cost anything to post most classified ads on the site.

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