The Dark Side of Boston’s Craigslist

BY DAN ALBAN

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Many HLS students know the Boston Craigslist, at http://boston.craigslist.org/, as a website where they can find an apartment, buy cheap furniture, or get tickets to a Sox game. Craigslist is a network of online classified ads sites organized by city – a less formal version of eBay that emphasizes local transactions. Started in San Francisco in 1995 by Craig Newmark, Craigslist has become a nationwide – and even international – phenomenon with a network of 190 city-based websites. In September alone, the sites that make up the Craigslist network had nearly 9 million visitors.

But not everyone is selling used Playstations or offering cleaning services. Craigslist has a darker, deviant side where illicit or legally questionable activities – often sexual in nature – are offered for cash or in trade. The two primary areas in which such posts can be found contain an intermediate “warning & disclaimer” page in which users must agree to four stipulations, such as “I understand erotic services may include explicitly sexual content.” The following items were found on the local Boston Craigslist.

The Craigslist Personals category contains a Casual Encounters subcategory – casual encounters being a euphemism for casual sex. However, among the horny Harvard undergrads desperately hoping to get laid (“I’m a Harvard man looking for hot NSA with a Boston girl. Harvard girls aren’t doing it for me.” – NSA being an abbreviation for a no-strings-attached sexual relationship) lurk a number of folks who aren’t looking so much for casual sex as commercial sex, often older men seeking “discrete NSA” relationships with college co-eds, and vice-versa.

Such ads are often signaled by the oh-so-subtle use of dollar signs instead of the letter “s” as in “Generous M seek$ MFM experience with mature couple” or suggestions that help is needed in paying bills. Others are more blatant, with titles like “College Student + Big Bosom = $$$,” “Sugar Daddy for Submissive College Slut,” and “GOT BILLS??? generous M38 needs dirty nasty girl for fun.” Other posts, such as “In need of snowbunny to ski with me tonight” or “Hot bottom seeks hotel ski partner” offer or seek sexual services in exchange for cocaine and other controlled substances.

Meanwhile, in the Services category, where users can find movers, web designers, and even attorneys, the Erotic Services category serves as an authorized portal to the world of professional and semi-professional sex-workers and their clients. Posters in this area, some with explicit pictures, seek or offer a variety of sexual services including erotic massages, incall (sex-worker hosts) or outcall (client hosts) escort services, “full service” encounters (intercourse), “car dates” (sexual encounters in a car), and “GFEs” (girlfriend experiences – an ill-defined term that generally refers to unrushed encounters which may include mutual cuddling, foreplay and kissing), as well as fetishes such as “ass worship,” “foot worship,” “adult baby play,” “watersports,” and rough S&M dungeon encounters.

Among the more unique posts are the creative contributions from “three delicious sexy jewish bbw style college girls” (BBW = big beautiful women) just north of Boston who advertise “6 COCONUTS, 3 MOUTHS, 6 HANDS AND 3 SWEET BUNS!!!” and sometimes offer the puzzling endorsement: “you know what they say about JEWISH GIRLS.” An ad by a different poster, entitled “Break Me In,” claims “I’m a native California girl, new to the Boston area. Being an escort is a new experience for me however I’m enjoying every moment of it. No more boring 9-5, I get paid to have a good time.”

Harvard students – or at least those purporting to be Harvard students – also have a presence in the Erotic Services area. An ad titled “harvard student with pixxx to sell” offers “20 pixxx for $40 . . . photos only, no meetings… sorry guys:)”, while an ad for “erotic massage, cleaning services” offers the services of William, “a youthful, sexy, charming, educated, polite, young Harvard gentleman” who is “tall with dark brown hair and eyes, a well toned body with nice abs, incredibly skilled hands, stamina, passion and a desire to please” and offers a money-back guarantee.

Somewhat unexpectedly, there’s a bit more to the Erotic Services category than simply ads for sexual services. In fact, there’s something of an online community – twisted and dysfunctional, sure, but a community nonetheless. Users post reviews of providers, post warnings of rip-off services and police stings, debate the legality of various services and arrangements, critique each other’s spelling and grammar, bicker constantly, occasionally preach and try to convince everyone of their immorality, ask for sexual, legal and other advice, and complain about spam posts that direct visitors to porn and online dating websites.

While most “adult” ads are confined to the Erotic Services and Casual Encounters areas, such ads are also present elsewhere on Craigslist. The Gigs section frequently contains wanted ads for dancers, modeling and massage that are either explicitly adult or sketchy enough that it seems a safe assumption. Other posts often attempt to barter sensual massages or sexual services for other goods and services, including dentistry, tax help, home repairs, “loans,” laptop computers, and even cars. In one of the more blatant such offers, a “perfect gentleman” offers “Bikini/Brazilian Waxing For Women In Exchange For Massage.”

With such a visible online presence, some may wonder why local law enforcement hasn’t cracked down on the use of Craigslist to advertise illegal adult services. Police enforcement against online posters tends to be lax because the activity is not publicly visible, like streetwalking, and rarely provokes much public outcry. However, local crackdowns on Craiglist’s adult listings have picked up after an April sting in Boston netted an underage prostitute whose pimp had advertised on Craigslist. In August, Boston police arrested two women who advertised sexual services on Craigslist, and in October, Braintree police busted five women who had done the same. Craigslist does cooperate with law enforcement when requested, but does not have the resources to monitor all of the posts on the numerous Craigslist websites.

Dan Alban is a 3L who recently bought a few board games via Craigslist.

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