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Craigslist urged to shut erotic-services ads worldwide

In letter, human rights groups tell Craigslist not making the same improvements globally that it did in the U.S. "reveals a disingenuous and inconsistent response."

A hundred organizations fighting sex trafficking have joined the chorus of voices asking Craigslist to remove its erotic services section worldwide as the company has in the U.S.

In a letter sent Tuesday (PDF) to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster and founder Craig Newmark, human rights groups throughout the world thanked the company for bringing down its adult and erotic ads in the U.S. But the groups said that these services, where trafficked children and women are sold for sex, remain open in 250 cities worldwide. And in not making the same improvements globally, the groups told Craigslist that it "reveals a disingenuous and inconsistent response on your part."

The groups added that the few actions taken by Craigslist so far "do not measure up to the amount of daily harm being facilitated by Craigslist through the thousands of Erotic Services ads around the world each day."

The letter to Craigslist comes in the wake of a congressional hearing on sex trafficking set for Wednesday. The House of Representatives' Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security will hear testimony from law enforcement officials, advocacy groups, and members of Congress on the problem of child sex trafficking.

William Powell, director of customer service and law enforcement relations for Craigslist, and Elizabeth McDougall, Craigslist's legal counsel, are also scheduled to testify at the hearing. Sources told CNET last week that Congress asked Newmark to testify as well. But as of Wednesday morning, Newmark's name was not on the witness list.

One of the groups that signed the letter and is leading the charge against Craigslist is the FAIR Fund. Led by its executive director Andrea Powell, the group has also been thinking of hitting Craigslist with a class action lawsuit. Other groups that have joined the letter-writing campaign include World Hope International, the Polaris Project, Shared Hope International, the National Organization for Women's New York City chapter, and the Salvation Army.

Beyond asking Craigslist to take down its erotic services globally, the groups are also upset that the company has treated its adult services section differently in the U.S. than in the rest of the world.

In the U.S., Craigslist renamed the section from "erotic" to "adult." But in other countries, the section is still known as "erotic." The U.S. and Canadian versions contained a "Warning & Disclaimer" page discussing human trafficking and sexual exploitation, according to the groups. However, that warning is not present on any of the international versions. In their letter, the groups further claimed that nude photos are still found in the ads posted on the international sites. Overall, the groups believe that Craigslist is not applying the same screening process on the global ads that it did for the U.S. versions.

Craigslist has received pressure from advocacy groups, politicians, and law enforcement officials to take down its adult services on the grounds that they encourage and facilitate prostitution and sex trafficking. In late August, 17 attorneys general from across the U.S. sent a letter to Buckmaster and Newmark asking them to remove these ads in the U.S.

Craigslist had resisted the public and political pressure at first, saying that it thoroughly screened each ad posted in the adult section. But the company finally relented and brought down its adult services in the U.S. earlier this month.