Where do Craigslist's "adult" profits go?

Sex ads produce an estimated $36 million, and the site no longer promises it'll donate it all to charity

Published April 26, 2010 10:35PM (EDT)

Craigslist is expected to bring in a whopping $36 million this year off of "adult services" ads. The reliably explicit and controversial section, which hosts advertisements for "sensual massage" and "full body rubs," is predicted to drive an estimated 22 percent revenue increase, according to new financial projections by the Advanced Interactive Media Group. These figures raise the question of whether the king of online classifieds is profiting from prostitution.

The calculations were made based on the number of adult ads posted to the site in February, and the fee of $10 for an initial post and $5 for repeat advertisements. Craigslist is known for being guarded about its operations and finances and CEO James Buckmaster declined to confirm the projections to the New York Times. Buckmaster also refused to tell the Times whether it would donate profits from the adult section to charity. Craigslist used to guarantee such donations, but all that changed after the company was strong-armed into instituting stricter human-monitoring of explicit ads and, as a result, upped posting fees and began calling the section "adult services" instead of "erotic services." That isn't to say that the company is no longer donating the proceeds, it just isn't making any promises.

Law enforcement claims that Craigslist is the "largest source of prostitution" in the country, and an advocate for sexually trafficked girls told the Times it's "the primary way children are bought in the country." (Just last week, the FBI charged 14 mafia members with using the site to sell sex with underage girls.) It's rather stunning seeing those allegations alongside the $36 million estimate, especially considering that we don't know where the money is going. Is it being pocketed? Is it going to charities that help women to escape prostitution and fight sex trafficking? We don't know. Nor do we know what chunk of those many millions was made off of ads selling sex, as opposed to legal adult entertainment, or what the net income is once you factor in the cost of a full-time staff that monitors each and every adult post submitted to the site.

Here's one thing I do know: It's kind of ironic that Craigslist only began charging for these types of ads after it was pressured into doing so by 40 state attorneys general who felt the site wasn't doing enough to combat prostitution.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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