Cook County sheriff sues Craigslist over sex ads

March 5, 2009 4:34:49 PM PST
Sheriff Dart is asking a federal judge to order Craigslist to eliminate its erotic services section. The sheriff says Craigslist is an arrogant institution that is willfully ignoring what it is becoming, in his view, the primary sex-for-money marketplace. And despite promises to work to eliminate it, the problem is only growing.

"This is horrific stuff folks. This is not pretty stuff. Some of the women we have talked to will tell us how they were sucked into this and they were led to believe by another girlfriend that this was not a big deal...only to find out they cannot leave the room because someone is standing outside the door," said Tom Dart, Cook County Sheriff.

Cook County sheriff details the experiences of hundreds of sex trade workers he said his officers have arrested in recent months - more often than not victims themselves, sometimes underage, whose sexual services pimps sold on craigslist, the $80 million per year classified advertising Web site.

The lawsuit alleges Craigslist knows its erotic services section is being used for human trafficking and prostitution.

"And yet we have this Web site that facilitates this. And somehow we are supposed to feel good about this because it is a legitimate business. Since when have we felt good about a legitimate business that facilitates a criminal act as an accomplice?" said Dart.

The lawsuit comes four months after Craigslist settled a nationwide lawsuit promising to enact new safeguards to restrict prostitution postings on their Web site. On Thursday, Craigslist said it hasn't seen the Cook County allegations but it bans illegal activity on its Web site. It adds: "Craigslist is an extremely unwise choice for those intent on committing crimes, since criminals inevitably leave an electronic trail to themselves that law enforcement officers will follow. On a daily basis, we are being of direct assistance to police departments and federal authorities nationwide."

One internet and data expert says Craigslist is vulnerable because it offers erotic services listings for $5 alongside categories offering to match up people looking for free sex.

"You could probably make an argument that despite their terms and conditions that prohibit solicitation of sex just as they prohibit sales of firearms and drugs. They know illegal activity is taking place on their website... and that's not good enough," said Garnet Steen, internet expert.

The sheriff's lawsuit asks Craigslist to shut down its erotic services category and reimburse Cook County for the cost of investigating prostitution and human trafficking through the Web site - a bill that's more than $100,000.

At 6 p.m. on ABC7 we will hear from a woman who was rescued by sheriff's deputies in a prostitution sting they said was based on ads from Craigslist.