March 26 2009 12:00 AM

A section of the popular classified Web site Craigslist has been targeted by an Illinois sheriff. What does Lansing law enforcement think?

Her name is Heaven, and her photo shows her sitting on the edge of a bed with her legs spread wearing a neon orange bikini. Her hands, bulging with blue veins, are pulling down her top, partially exposing her breasts. Her head isn’t in frame, but you can just see the ends of her brown hair resting on her shoulders.


It’s just one of a series of lurid self-portraits of Heaven taken in some sad white-walled motel or apartment and posted in her advertisement in the “erotic services” section of the Web site, Craigslist. For one night only, Heaven says, she’s available in East Lansing.



“SO GO AHEAD A ND CHECK ME OUT, I GARUNTEE ILL BE EVERYTHING YOUR LOOKING FOR AND MORE ... IM CURRENTLY OFFERING A SPECIAL FOR 45 MINUTES OF MY TIME AT THE RATE OF *150* DONT MISS YOUR CHANCE AT A DATE WITH THE GIRL OF YOUR DREAMS!!” she writes in her posting.

Heaven is just one of the many women and men — 39 in the “women for men” section in the last week alone — who advertise themselves on Lansing’s Craigslist site, whether you want a “chubby cutie” or a Thai tantric massage. And it’s this specific section of Craigslist — call it the Internet’s red light district — that has caused Cook County, Ill., Sheriff Thomas Dart to file a civil suit against the Web site asking that it remove “erotic services” and compensate the department $100,000 for expenses related to Craigslistrelated prostitution arrests.

Dart alleges in the suit, which he filed using a private law firm, that the “erotic services” section constitutes a public nuisance because it fosters prostitution — in some cases of children and human sex slaves. Dart did not respond for a request for comment.

For its part, Craigslist has mostly cooperated with authorities in previous complaints about the erotic services section. In November, the site responded to a request by 40 state attorneys general, including Michigan’s Mike Cox, that it tighten the “erotic services” section so that illegal advertisers would be banned from posting ads. As a result, Craigslist now requires a valid credit card and a working phone number in order to post in the erotic section.

Local law enforcement officials quizzed about Dart’s suit, however, say that it’s not something they’d likely want to get involved in. Prostitution, they say, is a business as old as time and probably won’t go away soon. And suing a facilitator of escort or other erotic services could get dicey. Do we now have to sue the Yellow Pages and virtually every newspaper — including this one — that provides a space for adult-oriented or erotic advertisements? Would it be a violation of free speech to ban Heaven from advertising her sex appeal to fellow consenting adults?


“I’m certainly not in favor of people using this for illegal purposes, but the First Amendment does grant a certain scope of expression,” Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings said. “Where you draw the line is for the constitutional scholars to decide. That’s an issue that has to be addressed.”

Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wrigglesworth says he wouldn’t be interested in filing a civil suit against the Web site.


“There are all kind of Web sites and availabilities of escort services that are out there. How many can you sue and win?” Wrigglesworth said. “I don’t know if it’s something I’d want to get involved in. I suspect that it’s a problem in terms of moral decay and those issues. I guess I would wish him luck, it’s just not something we’re going to do here.”


Wrigglesworth couldn’t recall any specific prostitution arrests or nuisances related to Craigslist — only some stings at local motels that were perpetuated by complaints from the owners. Prostitution in the county, he said, is “minimal.”

Further, Dunnings pointed out, the phrase “erotic services” is subjective — one person may find it erotic to watch a mouse crushed under a stiletto heel, which is far from paying someone to have sex with you.


“There’s a continuum of activity that would fall short of out and out sex for money,” Dunnings said.


But, Dunnings pointed out, if Dart is able to show that his department has prosecuted crimes that were born of Craigslist — and there’s a pattern — then his suit might have weight. Dart claims in the suit that he’s arrested over 200 individuals since January 2007 on charges ranging from prostitution to human trafficking — one arrest allegedly caught someone pimping a 14-yearold girl. Dart’s department has proactively policed Craigslist, using deputies to pose as prostitutes.

“If what this sheriff has done is established a record of violations of the solicitation that resulted the from the use of Craigslist services, and the sheriff has asked Craigslist to change this and they haven’t at all — If you have these prerequisites, I think he could be in business,” Dunnings said.


Ingham County isn’t likely to go after Craigslist, Dunnings said, but like Wrigglesworth, he wished Dart luck.


“I’ve never heard anyone dispute that it’s the world’s oldest profession,” he said.


Back on Craigslist, Heaven’s sultry ad is no longer at the top of Lansing erotic services page. A woman, who does not give a name, real or fantastic, has posted an ad with a blurry picture of herself dressed in white silk lingerie, her chest exposed, lying on a bed. The ad is more explicit in its advertisement that this woman is “kinky,” “hot,” and a lover of “sex in all its forms.”

“PLEASE TAKE NOTE I am a respectable down to earth (drug and disease) free lady and expect the same of you. We can meet for a soda or coffee before if you wish,” she writes, next to her phone number, at the end of the posting.



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