Thursday, February 8, 2007

Craigslist girls will get you busted

Police take aim at prostitution’s new home: craigslist
By Jared Allen, jallen@nashvillecitypaper.comFebruary 08, 2007
It is said to be the world’s oldest profession. But here in Nashville, it has only recently gone digital.Sex for sale is hardly new. But the sale of sex through the well-known national classifieds website craigslist.org is fairly new to Nashville, according to those whose job it is to crack down on such illegal activity.And for the past eight months, the Metro Police Department’s Vice Squad has been quietly engaging in an operation to snuff out on-line prostitution, and craigslist has been its primary target.Unlike in years past where vice detectives fanned out to roam seedy streets, hit shady strip clubs and comb though the telephone directory looking for prostitutes, Metro’s vice squad has set its targets almost exclusively on Nashville’s own craigslist page.Police say they have done so because craigslist has quickly become the primary way prostitutes and their clients find one another in the Music City.“It’s like the whole escort service industry jumped off the Yellow Pages and onto craigslist,” said Detective Joe Ladnier, one of four vice detectives working out of Metro’s Specialized Investigation Division.Craigslist was born in 1995 in San Francisco as a web page listing local community events. It quickly became one of the Internet’s most widely utilized mediums for advertising housing, jobs, items for sale and other services.Officially, craigslist came to Nashville in February 2004 when the Music City became the 35th city internationally to obtain its own page, nashville.craigslist.orgBut it was not until June of last year when the police department first realized the site was the new home for Nashville’s prostitution market.“It was pretty overwhelming when we first took a look at it,” Ladnier said.According to the Vice Squad, as many as 100 new postings appear every day in the “erotic services” section of nashville.craigslist.org.And every single ad cops have followed up on has led to a prostitution arrest.Lt. Mitch Fuhrer of the Specialized Investigation Division said four detectives have made between 30 and 40 such arrests in eight months, which also constitutes a tremendous increase over years past when prostitution in Nashville was both traded and tracked via other means.Now police believe as much as 90 percent of the local sex industry uses craigslist as its primary means of advertising, having all but abandoned the phone book and preferring craigslist far above other Internet sites.While that has made Nashville’s prostitutes easier to track, the near-elimination of pimps and escort services has also led to more and more women turning to prostitution, police said.And vice detectives say the characteristics of the women – and men – offering sex in exchange for money on craigslist has surprised even them.“We’ve found a few moms,” Fuhrer said. “One mother was working out of her home and using her daughter’s computer. She said she needed money.”Police say they treat the women they arrest for prostitution off of craigslist like any other prostitute they encounter.“We warn them to take their ad down, and we warn them to get out of the prostitution business,” Ladnier said. “Most we’ll never hear from again, but we have made some repeat arrests.”Despite the plethora of advertisements under “erotic service” appearing every day, Nashville police say they are actually ahead of the curve compared to larger cities when it comes to policing on-line prostitution.“It’s not just the kids, it’s the bad guys, too, who are Internet savvy now,” Fuhrer said. “So we’ve become Internet savvy.”Susan MacTavish Best, a spokeswoman for the Web site – which now hosts more than 25 million user posts each month – said craigslist still remains a user-moderated site.“The ‘erotic services’ category is for legal escort services and sensual massage providers,” Best wrote in an e-mail. “It was added at the request of our users who wanted these ads separated from our general ‘personals’ categories.”Furthermore, the “terms of use,” which all posters to craigslist must agree to, explains that no posting can contain pornography, nor can it advertise “any illegal service or the sale of any items the sale of which is prohibited or restricted by any applicable law.”That, though, has not hindered Nashville’s prostitutes, police said.“A hourly rate for a professional, licensed massage therapist is somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 an hour,” Ladnier said. “These listings are for $200 an hour. When we see that we know it’s prostitution.”Lt. Fuhrer said the deduction is often simpler than that.“You know what you’re getting when you see some of these ads,” Fuhrer said. “Some of them are pretty descriptive and pretty explicit.”

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