Authorities in Chicago are taking one of the nation's busiest websites to court, charging: its high-tech services have become a haven for the world's oldest profession.
Craigs List is an on line network featuring classified advertisements. But Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says it's being used as a virtual middleman for illegal sex services.
The lawsuit, filed by his department, calls for an injunction to shut down the erotic services component. It's also seeking monetary damages to re-coup the cost of cracking down on Craigs List-related sex crimes.
Here in Reno, local police say hundreds of prostitutes use Craigs List to solicit customers everyday, and they arrest between six and seven of these prostitutes per month on average in our area. But the problem continues, sometimes even girls as young as 13 are forced into the hustling lifestyle.
Even though prostitution is legal in many parts of Nevada, it's not legal here in Washoe County. Police say it's a dangerous profession, one that can lead to a lot more than just a casual exchange of money and sex.
If you've used Craig's List before, you'd know how easy it is to find a job listing, some furniture, or a new puppy, but you may not know about this. The site's "erotic services" section has hundreds of racy ads from prostitutes, hoping to make some extra cash.
"If you look at them closely, most of them say, 'well, you can have a half hour of my time for 200 roses. You can have an hour of my time for 300 kisses. Kisses and roses and all those cute words they use are all terms used in exchange for money," said Reno Police Sergeant Mac Venzon.
Venzon says the ads themselves are not illegal because most of them don't actually solicit prostitution. Police are forced to monitor the site, and they hope to catch prostitutes in the act.
"We do sting operations. We set up in hotels and residences and see if we can get them to come to us."
Police say that's when they make an arrest. Many times, they see the same women again and again. Other times, the ad and photo aren't really advertising what they find on the other end. But it's not the prostitution itself that police see as dangerous, it's the crime that comes with it.
"The drugs, the robberies," said Venzon.
But he says Craigs List is not the enemy. Prostitutes also post ads on countless other local websites. He says Craigs List coordinators now require a phone number and a credit card to post on the erotic section, leaving a paper trail for local police.
"They don't want this activity any more than we do, so Craig's List has been very helpful," said Venzon.
Venzon says one of the biggest dangers is that Craig's List prostitutes often target tourists. A man from out of town will answer an ad from a woman, and when he gets there, sometimes it's nothing more than a robbery set-up--no woman in site.