May 14th, 2009
11:17 AM ET

The end of prostitution as we know it?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/04/20/mass.killing.craigslist/art.craigslist.massage.whdh.jpg]

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

Here’s the name of the technique prosecutors have come up with to end prostitution as we know it. They call it "manual blocking.”

Manual blocking is what a coalition of U.S. Attorneys General have pressured Craigslist to institute as a way of filtering out ads for prostitution. No special software. Actual human beings will be responsible for the job.

What is a manual blocker – and how will he or she help end the solicitation of prostitution on the internet? The answer in a moment. But first, the hard news.

Goodbye Erotic, Hello Adult

Craigslist has agreed to shut down its "erotic services" section. The Attorney General of Connecticut called the heavily trafficked classified ad section "a blatant internet brothel." The Cook County Illinois Sheriff called it "the single largest source of prostitution in the nation." But enough testimonials.

Craigslist was started by self-described internet nerd, Craig Newmark, in 1995 as a simple email list for friends and coworkers about events going on in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has grown into a huge classified ad site, dominated by clean categories such as Community, Housing, Jobs, For Sale. And company officials did make a strong argument for salvaging the erotic services section. They argued that by keeping it on-line the vice is easier to track. Which makes sense. We know that nothing is completely private on the internet. But the company ultimately relented.

Craigslist says it will take seven days to eliminate its “erotic services” category. Why so long? Are they copying down the phone number? Whatever the reason, I’m thankful for the delay, because it gave me a chance to do some reporting. After a cursory glance at the soon to be defunct category, there seemed to be a never ending series of “next 100 postings” at the bottom of each page for this week alone – far more entries than, for example, in the arts and crafts category, which is also quite popular. Craigslist will convert the erotic services to a new category called "adult services."

I had the same reaction you did. And so did the Attorneys General. Which is why they’ve already put out this statement: "We will be monitoring closely to make sure that this measure is more than a name change from 'erotic' to 'adult' and that the manual blocking is tough and effective to scrub prostitution and pornography," and "really shuts down its open online red light district." And the new “adult services” site will make use of new key words that make it easier for parental filters to kick in. Which is a very good thing.

Now, if you skim through the erotic services category on Craigslist, and I’m not recommending you do, you’ll find there is nothing subtle about it. It is packed with explicit offers that leave little to the imagination. But, surely, knowing there soon will be a hawk-eyed monitor assigned to filter out the smut, the soliciations will get subtle. Craigslist will need to get a clever person for the job, one who can read between the lines. I’m not that person. When I read an actual ad from today with the headline: “Put this NAUGHTY blond 2 the test,” the copy editor in me only wanted to change “2” to “to.” So count me out. Craigslist needs somebody with special qualifications to become its first official “manual blocker.”


“Minimum five years experience using internet. Familiarity with code language and euphemisms used in sex solicitations. If you think vanilla refers to ice cream preference, do not apply.”

I don’t want to digress at this critical point in the story, but I did look up "manual blocking” on Google, and it happens to be a technical term in the train industry. According to the Encyclopedia Americana: "In manual blocking, each signalman controls the block signals at his station, and, in the absence of other means, the code signaling between the block stations is done by electric bells." Electric bells. Loud ones that ring through every computer. Not a bad deterrent. DING DING DING! "Guess who’s on Craigslist again?"

Here's my big concern about finding an ace manual blocker. It can be summed up with an old joke about a boy who’s attending a strict parochial school. The priest calls him in for an urgent meeting. “Are you the boy who did ‘you know what’ with Susie?” “No, Father” said the boy. “Are you the boy who did ‘you know what’ with Linda?” “No, Father,” said the boy. “Well, then, are you the boy who did ‘you know what’ with Amy?” “No, Father,” said the boy. When the boy left the Priest’s office, his buddy asked him what happened inside. The boy answered: “I got three great leads.”

You know what that boy wants to be when he grows up? A manual blocker.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. lawyermommy

    I do not understand why Craig's list should be singled out for providing this sort of service. There are many online sites that blatantly sell prostitution to adults and minors alike. They too should be targeted!

    The suspected murderer who found his victims on that site had a history of stalking, burglary and attempted murder. He was not investigated and neither was he caught until he allegedly killed and then killed AGAIN.
    It is obvious the issue is with speed and depth of investigating criminal allegations like those which had been made by a few women about the suspect.

    I believe that once a report has been made regarding the conduct of someone like the suspect in the Craig's list murders, then such an individual should be vigorously investigated and routed.

    Things should not have been allowed to get this bad. Hopefully, they have the right man in custody and he is looking at spending the rest of his natural life in jail.

    May 14, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  2. GF, Los Angeles

    I'd like to know what "Adult" services are to be advertised on Craigslist. As far as I'm concerned it's just another fancy word for prostitution.

    May 14, 2009 at 11:48 am |
  3. Waste of time

    Why not just legalize prostitution? The government could tax that too. Think of all the money they could make. What someone does with their body is their choice, why not profit from it??

    May 14, 2009 at 9:48 am |
  4. Rachel

    "Adult Services" hahahalol, is that what their calling it?, teach my child something, why don't you!!!!!!! thats putting a red flag on the section they will go to first...

    May 14, 2009 at 9:28 am |
  5. Cindy

    Sounds great to me! Prostitution is sick anyway so good riddance to bad rubbish! The sooner they can get rid of it the better.

    As far as Craigslist goes kudos to them for doing away with that trash!! It was mostly used by gays to hook up anyway...everyone knows that.


    May 14, 2009 at 9:24 am |
  6. Marianne

    This is an across the board (web/social media problem) that is going to set presidence for many online communities....talk about a can of worms! Half the current unemployed in the US could potentially become manual blockers. I think regulated chastity belts with sensors is another industry waiting to happen. To the Moon Alice.......

    May 14, 2009 at 8:23 am |