Banning Craigslist erotic ads won’t stop online sex trade: Police

The federal government wants Craigslist to stop running erotic services classified ads because they promote prostitution.

But one New Westminster police officer, specializing in Internet crime against children and women, says banning the ads won’t put an end to the online marketing of prostitution.

Those involved in the sex industry will find another way to sell their services, said Det. Mike MacFarlane with the New Westminster Police Services.

“If they take off these erotic services ads it’s just going to show up somewhere else or on some other website,” he said. “The ads will pop up somewhere else. You just can’t make these things go away.”

Last Thursday federal justice minister Rob Nicholson said he wrote Craiglist, the free online advertiser, requesting they remove the classified section for erotic services.

MacFarlane, who has helped catch Internet predators from as far away as Australia, said sex-trade advertisers have plenty of alternatives.

He gives the example LimeWire to explain how criminal activity keeps resurfacing on the Internet. U.S. law enforcement and the courts cracked down on the Internet-based peer-to-peer file sharing program and website to stop the widespread sharing of child pornography.

When that happened, more peer-to-peer websites sharing child born were launched. That made it more difficult for law enforcement to target those involved in the illegal activity, he said.

“It’s a complex issue not easily solved,” said MacFarlane.

Craigslist is also a daunting task for police to monitor.

The California-based company has more than 700 sites around the world, specific to regions and cities, including Craigslist Vancouver (http://vancouver.en.craigslist.ca).

On Thursday MacFarlane searched Craigslist Vancouver and found more than 400 erotic service ads listing New Westminster as the location they do business in.

Most of the ads offer sexual or sensual services, said MacFarlane.

“The actual advertising doesn’t say it but it’s pretty obvious. You have to read between the lines,” he said.

The ads also don’t indicate if children or victims of human trafficking are offering the services. And police are unlikely to investigate each ad unless they receive a complaint of suspected criminal behaviour.

“It would be extremely costly and time consuming to investigate each one,” said MacFarlane. “It’s not as simple as driving up to your street corner girls to talk to because they’re readily available.”

Craigslist recently dropped the erotic services classified sections in the United States after complaints the ads promoted prostitution and human trafficking.

Justice minister Nicholson wants the exotic services ads removed in Canada because he says Craigslist does not take precautions to make sure ads aren’t facilitating child exploitation.

Craigslist has specific regulations against ads promoting prostitution, child pornography and exploitation and other illegal activities. However, the ads are largely regulated by users who can flag ads that break the rules.

Craigslist also states, “Suspected human trafficking and exploitation of minors should be reported to law enforcement,” in its online erotic services section.

• Last month a Burnaby man was charged with running four brothels in Burnaby, Surrey, Coquitlam and Richmond. The nine women found in the homes were from Hong Kong and forced into prostitution when they came to Canada, say Burnaby RCMP.

The suspect used the Craigslist erotic services section to advertise.

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