Cracking Down

Young women offering sex for money no longer needing to walk the streets. Instead, they offer their services on the reputable Web site craigslist.com. Next to the area on the site where you can buy a jungle gym for your child, you can access erotic ads, where young women post sexy photos and advertise sex for money. Cheerleaders, honor students and college graduates are drawn to the relative anonymity of this money-making option, and law enforcement agencies across the country are up in arms.

Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois Tom Dart joins the show via satellite. Tom recently made headlines for filing a lawsuit against craigslist and says the site is the largest source of prostitution in the United States.

Dr. Phil explains that he went on the Web site craigslist.com and the only restriction seemed to be that you had to click a button to prove you were 18 or older " which any child could do. That one click opened up ads with highly provocative, pornographic images.

[AD]"See, Dr. Phil, that has been our whole point. They will tell you that they're monitoring the site, that they have all these safeguards, and there are absolutely no safeguards," Tom says. "There is no way they are attempting to check that you are, in fact, over 18. But they also say that they have some flagging that they do on the site to take certain sites down. We decided, 'OK, we'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Let's test that.' We put up one ad that said, ‘14-year-old looking for male companionship.' They never took that down. We put another one up that said, ‘15-year-old looking for sex.' And, not only did they not take it down, but we had a child sex offender hit on it and want to make a date with us, and then we ended up taking it down. So, they claim that they are monitoring it but as you said, Dr. Phil, when you look at the site, this is so blatant, this is so obvious what is going on, and it's troubling that a company does not see that they're facilitating a crime, and doesn't step up and say, ‘We're going to take this down.'"

"So, you have a lawsuit against them now, and you're asking for $150,000 in damages for manpower that you've had to implement to try to police this," Dr. Phil says.

"Oh, yeah, Dr. Phil, we could be arresting people around the clock because it's an explosion in the prostitution area that we had not seen before, where the postings keep going on and on," he says. "There are about 300 new ones every day here in Chicago, and we're just trying to stay ahead of it. The FBI studied this just last year alone, and they found that over 2,800 juvenile prostitution ads were on craigslist just last year, so it's clear that the site is being misappropriated, it's being used for the wrong purposes, and we can't afford to keep chasing it around, but we can't stop doing it either because we keep coming across juveniles who've been sucked into this, and even the other women brought into this too. I'll be honest with you, the stories we're coming across as far as people you would never imagine would be involved in prostitution rely on the anonymity involved with the Internet. So they'll do something that they'll never conceive of doing, and we're arresting soccer moms, we're arresting women who have their kids in the next hotel room, we arrested one woman " her husband was in the parking lot with their child in a baby seat."

"This is what's shocking. I promised parents that I was going to keep them ahead of the power curve with what was happening with their teenagers," Dr. Phil says. "You arrested somebody on your own street, correct?"

[AD]"Yeah, about five blocks away from me, we arrested a juvenile who " once again, Dr. Phil, these ads aren't exactly accurate, so people will put pictures of other people there. They don't come out right and say, ‘I'm a juvenile.' They'll say, ‘I'm very young.' " We showed up at a hotel. We came across two juveniles. One of them lived about five blocks from my house. Another one was maybe one community over," Tom says. "These were kids who were enrolled in local high schools. These were kids who, I dare say, no one would've imagined that's what they're doing. And one of the women we've been working with now, who told me, ‘Thank God it was you who showed up because I would've been raped otherwise,' because she thought she was going there for a photo shoot, she was a National Merit Scholar."

Dr. Phil invited craigslist to be part of the discussion, but they declined. CEO of craigslist Jim Buckmaster sent a statement in response to Sheriff Dart's lawsuit:

"Sheriff Dart's public statements that craigslist causes, condones, promotes, or profits from crime are outrageously false and absolutely unacceptable. He inexplicably ignores all the work that craigslist is doing with our many partners in law enforcement."

[AD]"Trust me, it isn't as if they're going across any big bridges here to help us. There are actually people who put ads up on craigslist that detail our undercover officers' looks, their vehicles, their phone numbers, and we have to take them off, so to say they're assisting us is comical. It really is comical," Tom says.

 

To read the statement in its entirety, click here.