On my commute home yesterday, I happened to catch this story on NPR's All Things Considered about a letter signed by 17 Sate Attorneys General asking Craigslist to remove its "adult services" section because they believe it helps foster illegal sex work and child trafficking.
A full transcript is provided on the NPR website. What caught my attention was this exchange between Melissa Block, the reporter, and Chris Koster, State Attorney General of Missouri (one of the AGs who signed the letter). Block is trying to nail Koster down on exactly what he find objectionable about adult women voluntarily offering "adult services" online.
BLOCK: I did try to look through some of them today, locally here, and I would assume that some of those ads, at least, would be placed by adult women who are not victims, who, this is their line of work, and they want to promote their services. Am I wrong about that?
Mr. KOSTER: Well, in Missouri, if you and I are on the same page on what you just said, in Missouri, that's called prostitution. And that's exactly what we are complaining and have been complaining to Craigslist for quite some time over, that some of these ads are very specific. They are clearly for sex, and Craig Newmark is providing a bulletin board for conduct that frequently violates the laws of the 50 states.
BLOCK: I take your point about these ads promoting prostitution, which is illegal. Wouldn't that be a little bit different, though, from saying that women are being victimized? One does not necessarily imply the other, I think.
I want to say kudos to NPR and to Melissa Block in particular for pointing out that objecting to something because it is illegal is different from objecting to something because it is "victimizing" the women (or children) involved, and that there is no simple way to tell if the (adult) individuals who post on Craigslist are being exploited or not. The AG blusters on, saying
That's right. I mean, every single ad that we see on this site, on this link, is not creating a victim. But there are far too many that do, and if you go through any town in America, certainly any town of any size, you're going to see a large number of ads that would certainly appear as advertisements for prostitution.
Again implying that prostitution = victimization. Unfortunately, a four-and-a-half minute story is not enough to disabuse any listener who agrees with Kloster of this notion, but hopefully Block's assertion that not all sex work is, de facto exploitation will in some small way help to shift the national conversation away from the sex work = exploitation model and allow us to ask more nuanced questions about how to incorporate, within a decriminalized sex work industry, checks and balances that would help stop human trafficking and exploitation without depriving sex workers of their livelihood.