It's hard out here for the pimped.
Last week, Craigslist announced the site would eliminate its "Erotic Services" section and replace it with an "Adult Services" category, which employees are said to monitor for illegal activity. The change comes after national media attention on Philip Markoff, the accused "Craigslist Killer," who allegedly murdered prostitutes he met through the classified ad website.
Even before Craigslist volunteered to remove the section, though, Florida Rep. Rachel Burgin, a Republican from Hillsborough County, proposed a bill that would ban questionable ads like those found in the Erotic Services section -- or in pages of New Times or backpages.com. The bill never made it to a vote, but Burgin says she's contemplating similar legislation next session.
Meanwhile, dozens -- if not hundreds -- of local men and women who had been soliciting clients from Craigslist ads must now find a new stream of revenue. I spoke with a local prostitute who has been advertising on Craigslist for just over a year. For obvious reasons, she asked that we not publish her name, so we'll call her B.
Her thoughts, after the jump.
"This is something we all saw coming," B says. "But that doesn't make it any easier." Since the economic collapse last fall, she says business has already been very slow. Although she used to live alone, B now shares an apartment with two other women in the same business. She says they were even combining their erotic ads and sharing the cost (about five dollars per) to help save money. Whereas she was making more than $1,000 a day just a few months ago, she says, she's lucky to pull in $600 in a week now. "I don't even know how much I'm going to lose now," she says.
Rep. Burgin thinks this is a positive step though. "I applaud the owners of Craigslist for doing the responsible thing," she says. "They obviously saw the danger it was creating for women, and I thank them. I think it's a good response to what's happened recently, and I'm glad they did it without being forced." Burgin points out that a lot of prostitution ads aren't posted by the prostitutes themselves but by human traffickers exploiting young, troubled girls. Some women don't even know they are being advertised, she says.
But B sees this as a large corporation covering its own ass. "Nobody at Craigslist is trying to protect the girls doing this," she says. "They're just protecting themselves."
The change hasn't stopped B from advertising, however. And it hasn't even prevented her from advertising on Craigslist. She still has an ad running in the new Adult Services section. But while her ad used to include a number of topless photos -- often with her face blurred -- along with a list of websites where men could watch clips of adult movies she's been in, her cost (275 roses), and the denotation "GFE," which signifies that she offers clients a "girlfriend experience," the new ad is just a photo of her face and a phone number. In the days since the format change, she says, she's had only one new client.
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B's situation illustrates the new dilemma faced by the modern prostitutes. She can still advertise, but it's more subtle, less lucrative, and she knows even that might not last long. And when the opportunity to advertise her services is gone, her choices will be limited: She can work off "word of mouth" referrals (save the jokes) only, she can start walking the streets, or she can find a new line of work.
"Isn't unemployment at like some all-time high right now or something?" she jokes. "Isn't everybody else already looking for a job?" B points out that she has a college degree and can probably find work, but most of the other women in the industry aren't so lucky. "They want to push a bunch of hoes out in the street? Women with kids and rent and insurance bills, and Craigslist wants to see them marching up and down Federal with their asses hanging out like some crack whores? People don't think."
Not long into our phone conversation, she got another call she thought might be an old client. She said the number looked familiar. She had to go.
One minute later, she called back. "It was someone trying to sell me something," she says. "Like I have the extra money for anything right now."