On Saturday night I attended a dinner party in Laguna. A guest seated next to me pulled out a snazzy looking camera, and raved about how he got it for a steal on Craigslist.

In the car, I asked my sister if she's used Craigslist. "Of course! It's the best. It's where all the college students look for housing and jobs." The online classifieds service is one of the most popular websites in the US today.

It's also used for selling women and underage girls.

Last year, Craigslist changed their "erotic services" name to "adult services." They also promised to manually monitor the section for any instances of child prostitution or human trafficking. And they started charging $5 to $10 per sexual service post.

The result? The privately-owned company's revenues for prostitution have gone up. This past April, the FBI arrested 14 Mafia members for selling girls ages 15 to 19 on Craigslist in New York and New Jersesy.

Human rights activists continue to call Craigslist the "biggest online hub for selling women against their will," according to The New York Times. But Craigslist's two largest shareholders, company founder Craig Newmark and chief executive James Buckmaster, appear unperturbed by the complaints of human rights officials and authorities.

One human rights activist watching Craigslist is Malika Saada Saar, who founded the Rebecca Project for Human Rights while attending Georgetown Law. As director of the Rebecca Project, Saada Saar joined forces with other organizations to fight human trafficking in the United States, including trafficking on Craigslist. The Rebecca Project produced the YouTube video on the left with the FAIR Fund youth advocate, and Crittenton Foundation.

Saada Saar recently spoke with me about the problem and her efforts to fight it.

An estimated 100,000 minors in the U.S. are trafficked into prostitution. Why is Craigslist a major hub for trafficking?

[Craigslist] is this iconic, convenient way that we are able to purchase items. And because of the adult services section that Craigslist allows to be part of that process, individuals can purchase a girl for sex in the same manner that they are able to purchase a piece of furniture. Craigslist makes in very convenient.

When you look at who tends to purchase girls for sex, the research shows us that these persons are usually white men who are married and in their 30s and 40s. So it's more convenient and discreet for them to simply go onto Craigslist and purchase a child for sex, than to go out onto the street and do that, or to go to a more taboo site like Backpage or myRedBook.

Article continues below

How many illegal Craigslist posts have been documented?

At any point in any city, you can go onto the adult services section and see children who are being trafficked. This is not only an issue within the U.S. borders; it's also an issue within Criagslist Vietnam, Thailand, and India.

How many illegal posts are estimated?

We went onto the site last week because it's often used as a way of trying to see if Criagslist is in fact manually removing those advertisements for sex that are obviously for children. Those days that we went there, we were able to track at least one girl each day that was up for being sold.

The other part is that there's been some really good research that's coming out of the Shapiro Group, a research group hired by the Women's Funding Network. What their research shows, in the state of Georgia, was that Craigslist was used three times more than Backpage and myRedBook, and that 47 percent of individuals, once they were told that this was a girl under the age of 18, whom they were purchasing, continued with the purchase of the child. Something that's interesting to note is that Craigslist issued a cease and desist order regarding the research, but the Women's Funding Network released it anyway.

Upon clicking on "adult services," Craigslist's visitors must agree to "report suspected exploitation of minors or human trafficking." Why are girls still falling through the cracks?

Many of the individuals who are going to that section are trying to find girls under the age. They're not trying to report those girls; they're trying to purchase those girls. And also, there isn't that type of comprehensive monitoring of the girls—and the boys as well—who are being put up for sale. If there were that type of exhaustive monitoring, then we wouldn't see these numbers, not just for child prostitution but prostitution in general.

What is the Rebecca Project's response to the Craigslist controversy?

We purchased a half page in the San Francisco Chronicle, which is Craig Newmark and and Jim Buckmaster's hometown paper, [with] an open letter to Craig Newmark, that was written by two young girls who were trafficked for sex through Craigslist, asking him to shut [the adult services section] down.

And we did a YouTube piece as well. You can go directly to Facebook as well, to write something to Craig Newmark, or go directly to his own blog.

Article continues below

Is there anything that concerned Christian women can do to help?

Be very aware that all of our girls are really at risk of this issue of sexual violence. There is a statistic that 1 in 3 girls, by the time she reaches 18, will have suffered some form of sexual violence. So I think it's important for us to honor the sacredness of our daughters, and recognize that too often our girls are sexually victimized. Whether it is a trafficker, or someone who purchases our girls, or the next door neighbor who goes onto Craigslist, we have to be able to hold accountable those persons who subject our girls to sexual violence. We should be able to honor our girls' sacredness, to talk to them, and to recognize that they deserve only to be honored in their bodies, not hurt, not criminalized.

Davita Maharaj is pursuing a master's degree in international human rights law at Oxford University. You can find more about her on her website or follow her on Twitter. Last year, Katelyn Beaty spoke with child advocate Kaffie McCullough about Craigslist.