Study On Craigslist Shutting 'Erotic Services' Shows SESTA May Hurt Those It Purports To Help

from the good-intentions-do-not-make-good-policy dept

The last two posts I wrote about SESTA discussed how, if it passes, it will result in collateral damage to the important speech interests Section 230 is intended to protect. This post discusses how it will also result in collateral damage to the important interests that SESTA itself is intended to protect: those of vulnerable sex workers.

Concerns about how SESTA would affect them are not new: several anti-trafficking advocacy groups and experts have already spoken out about how SESTA, far from ameliorating the risk of sexual exploitation, will only exacerbate the risk of it in no small part because it disables one of the best tools for fighting it: the Internet platforms themselves:

[Using the vilified Backpage as an example, in as much as] Backpage acts as a channel for traffickers, it also acts as a point of connection between victims and law enforcement, family, good samaritans, and NGOs. Countless news reports and court documents bear out this connection. A quick perusal of news stories shows that last month, a mother found and recovered her daughter thanks to information in an ad on Backpage; a brother found his sister the same way; and a family alerted police to a missing girl on Backpage, leading to her recovery. As I have written elsewhere, NGOs routinely comb the website to find victims. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times famously ?pulled out [his] laptop, opened up Backpage and quickly found seminude advertisements for [a victim], who turned out to be in a hotel room with an armed pimp,? all from the victim?s family?s living room. He emailed the link to law enforcement, which staged a raid and recovered the victim.

And now there is yet more data confirming what these experts have been saying: when there have been platforms available to host content for erotic services, it has decreased the risk of harm to sex workers.

The September 2017 study, authored by West Virginia University and Baylor University economics and information systems experts, analyzes rates of female homicides in various cities before and after Craigslist opened an erotic services section on its website. The authors found a shocking 17 percent decrease in homicides with female victims after Craigslist erotic services were introduced.

The reasons for these numbers aren’t entirely clear, but there does seem to be a direct correlation in the safety to sex workers when, thanks to the availability of online platforms, they can “move indoors.”

Once sex workers move indoors, they are much safer for a number of reasons, Cunningham said. When you?re indoors, ?you can screen your clients more efficiently. When you?re soliciting a client on the street, there is no real screening opportunity. The sex worker just has to make the split second decision. She relies on very limited and complete information about the client?s identity and purposes. Whereas when a sex worker solicits indoors through digital means, she has Google, she has a lot of correspondence, she can ask a lot of questions. It?s not perfect screening, but it?s better.?

The push for SESTA seems to be predicated on the unrealistic notion that all we need to do to end sex trafficking is end the ability of sex services to use online platforms. But evidence suggests that removing the “indoor” option that the Internet affords doesn’t actually end sex work; it simply moves it to the outdoors, where it is vastly less safe.

In 2014, Monroe was a trafficking victim in California. She found her clients by advertising on SFRedbook, the free online erotic services website. One day, she logged into the site and discovered that federal authorities had taken it down. Law enforcement hoped that closing the site would reduce trafficking, but it didn?t help Monroe. When she told her pimp SFRedbook was gone, he shrugged. Then he told her that she would just have to work outdoors from then on.

?When they closed down Redbook, they pushed me to the street,? Monroe told ThinkProgress. ?We had a set limit we had to make a day, which was more people, cheaper dates, and if you didn?t bring that home, it was ugly.? Monroe, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, had been working through Redbook in hotel rooms almost without incident, but working outdoors was much less safe.

?I got raped and robbed a couple of times,? she said. ?You?re in people?s cars, which means nobody can hear you if you get robbed or beaten up.?

A recurrent theme here on Techdirt is that, as with any technology policy, no matter how well-intentioned it is, whether or not it is a good policy depends on its unintended consequences. Not only do we need to worry about how a policy affects other worthwhile interests, but it also needs to consider how it affects the interest it seeks to vindicate. And in this case SESTA stands to harm the very people it ostensibly seeks to help.

Does that mean Congress should do nothing to address sex trafficking? Of course not, and it is considering many more options that more directly address the serious harms that arise from sex trafficking. Even Section 230 as it currently exists does not prevent the government from going after platforms if they directly aid it. But all too often regulators like to take shortcuts and target platforms simply because bad people may be using them in bad ways. It’s a temptation that needs to be resisted for many reasons, but not the least of which is that doing so may enable bad people to behave even worse.

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Companies: craigslist

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Comments on “Study On Craigslist Shutting 'Erotic Services' Shows SESTA May Hurt Those It Purports To Help”

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Anonymous Coward says:

"simply because bad people may be using them in bad ways" -- No other reason, then.

So don’t ever argue more.

The FIRST goal in fighting crime is to STOP what can be seen. — Oh, that old woman is being robbed? Well, let’s just let it play out before action. — Heck, we’ll even turn off street lights, move the station house ten miles away, and put out knives in case rapists don’t have one handy.

You’re arguing that having a public “platform” on which to offer for sale the unwilling services of persons kidnapped into sex slavery is better than forcing it kept out of sight? — No, YOU are insane. It’s surely directly causing MORE.

And I suppose you’d say it’s just coincidence that Google and Facebook and Craigslist and Backpage and other corporations which are getting money from advertisements oppose SESTA. Your real goal here is supporting corporations — which is literally promoting, NOT stopping crime.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "simply because bad people may be using them in bad ways" -- No other reason, then.

Im unsure if you are trolling or satire.

In any case: You are kind of arguing techdirt’s case. SESTA does exactly what you suggest: move the police house, turn off the lights, and make sure no one ever knows the crime happens. These crimes happened before craigslist & backpage, and continue with the erotic personals closed. It only hides the crime. That’s why anti-trafficing organizations and law enforcement are also against SESTA. Because it doesn’t actually address the crime. It claims to address the crime, then proceeds to attack a platform that makes the crime visible, and allows law enforcement to locate victims and their abusers.

This law places big burdens on corporations to ‘solve’ a crime that has existed for thousands of years, and only succeeds at making it harder for law enforcement to identify and help victims of sex trafficking. Even if it does ‘stop online sex trafficking’, it doesn’t stop ‘sex trafficking’, and those trying to stop ‘sex trafficking’ are telling us that it actually makes sex trafficking as a whole harder to stop.

But SESTA means we dont see the crime, so its fine.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "simply because bad people may be using them in bad ways" -- No other reason, then.

The FIRST goal in fighting crime is to STOP what can be seen.

And all those adverts on the likes Craigslist make a lot of crime visible. Investigating that which is advertised would stop crime, while all SESTA will do is hide it from public view, and allow the police to ignore it, unless of course they want a freebie.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "simply because bad people may be using them in bad ways" -- No other reason, then.

It’s surely directly causing MORE.

“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence” — Hitchen’s Razor

Note that the article upon which you commented offered evidence that you are wrong. Meanwhile, your assertions are without evidence to support them.


PaulT (profile) says:

Re: "simply because bad people may be using them in bad ways" -- No other reason, then.

Immediate problem – you think that people are advocating not stopping the crime. This is untrue. Nothing about not holding a 3rd party responsible prevents you going after the 1st party commiting the act. In fact, by keeping them in the open, it can help apprehend the scum responsible. Public lawbreaking is easier for police to stop than nebulous underground networks hidden from view.

That’s the point, if you were honest enough to listen

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: "simply because bad people may be using them in bad ways" -- No other reason, then.

If the police want to stop trafficking crimes, they would probably want public platforms like Backpage and Craigslist to help them track such crimes, not force the perps further underground and make them harder for the police to find. And by the by, SESTA would do the latter.

ECA (profile) says:

just a suggestion..

How much does it take to JUMP UP and control a NEW TECH in the world..
What restrictions do PEOPLE WANT TO INSTALL??
WHY install them??

Creating something EQUAL to the real world??
With abit of respect and understanding..
OR/AND with hidden agendas flying around and Burying things we DONT LIKE TO SEE…(and doing little to nothing to SOLVE IT)

The internet was NEAT when it really HIT, and tons of knowledge was Installed on it, and we could FIND almost anything. THINGS are getting BURIED..

In history, Iv discussed a strange fact.
Who started the War with China?
Its kinda hidden what was happening. BEfore the war the USA sent the Flying tigers(a voluntary force(?) to help CHINA with the war with JAPAN.. THE USA blockaded JAPAN from the middle east and getting oil for Their SHIPS AND TANKS.. THE USA was doing things..
What would the USA do if this happened TO THEM??

History and knowledge can MAKE THIS NATION GREAT..unless you Cover it up with a LARGE WOOL BLANKET..

ECA (profile) says:

Re: just a suggestion..

are not solutions..

Just CAUSE mommy said…”Billy, dont stick your Fork in the socket”

BUT, wouldnt it be NICE to see it and monitor BILLY, insted of him, LOCKING the bathroom door and doing it ALONE, and no one THERE to CATCH HIM DOING IT???

WHY BURY things under a restriction THAT CANT WORK…it WONT get rid of a problem…it will only HIDE IT DEEPER…

MyNameHere (profile) says:

It’s a great story as long as you ignore the obvious: It only works because the victims are already trapped and making money for their abusers.

Here’s the thing: these ads are run to find customers, because without them, there isn’t enough business. So they run ads to try to entice guys who otherwise might not do this to actually give it a try.

Remove the ads, remove a source of income, and it would seem likely that fewer girls would end up in this situation to start with.

Finding the victims after they are victimized is “good”… taking away the financial incentives to abuse them to start with, “better”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

More likely, as one of the victims has pointed out, they will be forced to work the streets, which exposes them to many more risks. Also the response of those controlling the victims to any reduction of individual earnings will be to ensnare more victims.

SESTA is based on the flawed reasoning that the way to solve crime is to remove the tools, rather than putting effort into catching the criminals.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

SESTA has all the hallmarks of “Do Something!” laws like gun control, banning abortion, and too many others.

Law’s benefits are primarily hallucinatory? Check.

Handwaving away the harm that far outweighs the good? Check.

Sold with FUD instead of facts? Check.

Ensuring happy endings can’t happen? Check.

Either makes innocent acts now illegal or adds unnecessary redundancy to things that already are illegal? Check

Spurred by self-delusions of morality? Check.

Exist because of unscrupulous politicians wanting to score points with moronic voters? Check.

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