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from Time Out New York, October 16-23, 2003

Must Sell: Used Sofa, Strokes Tix, My Ass
by Bill Werde

People peddle all kinds of things on Craigslist -- even their bodies

By now, everyone knows Craigslist, the site where Web-surfers can find almost any person, place or thing: apartments for rent, Scrabble partners, an inexpensive used tuba and, as it turns out, hard-up folks selling their bodies for cash. Call it a sign of society's moral decay or of tough economic times, but every day, a handful of people with no experience working a street corner and no prior ambition to pursue the world's oldest profession sign on to Craigslist's New York site and post an ad to sell sex -- or something like it.

Of the dozens of ads that appear daily in the "Erotic Services" section, five to ten are from self-proclaimed amateurs. They offer a wide range of explicit activities, as well as some compelling reasons for their posts. "Desperately Seeking a Dentist," one recent ad read. "I'm a very beautiful, very discreet girl, VERY in need of a dentist." Josie, who lives in Westchester, wrote, "I'm a very sensual, sweet and CUTE 22-year-old college student who is looking for some sort of financial arrangement with an older white man." Adelle attends a top arts school and studies acting. Her ad, titled "And Yet Another Girl," explained, "I'm short on cash this month after purchasing my plane ticket to go home for Thanksgiving. Not into e-mail tag as I will be in classes." And it's not only the ladies who are posting: Ricky, a 21-year-old from Washington Heights, advertised a proclivity for making older women feel special.

There is certainly a market for amateurs like these. James, a 27-year-old graphic artist, regularly advertises in search of nonpros. "They are like girls next door," he says. "Only you can actually get them if you want. It makes it more comfortable, less businesslike, not to mention cheaper." The amateurs offering services -- those willing to speak with TONY, at least -- say that they never would have ventured into the realm of sex work were it not for the ability to remain anonymous. But the police are just as able to use the site as anyone else, although they've never contacted Craigslist's founder, Craig Newmark, regarding prostitution. "Our policy is that our site is not a place for criminal activity," Newmark says, "but that's a pragmatic decision, not a moral one. Considering there's no victim, is there a crime?" The NYPD thinks there might be. Detective Walter Burnes says it's a gray area: "An offer has to be made and it has to be understood. But the bottom line is, if anyone puts up an ad like that, at the other end of the e-mail, it may be an undercover police officer."

Those posting the ads are willing to take that chance -- uniformly, they say they are sexually experienced and in need of money. Ricky works a retail job at a mall in northern New Jersey and recently enlisted in the Army. "I wasn't planning on making a living out of it," he says of his ad. "Just some extra dollars and some extra ass." Echoing a common sentiment, he adds, "Everyone pays for sex one way or another. I'm just being up-front about it."

So far, Ricky has received only one response he thought was "serious," and she disappeared after a few e-mail exchanges. Female advertisers, however, draw more responses. Adelle found out in June that her financial aid was being decreased. Waitressing wasn't cutting it for her, and, fascinated by other ads she had read in "Erotic Services," she posted one of her own. She received 75 responses within 15 minutes. "I felt no guilt," she says about closing one deal. "It was a huge rush to walk out 45 minutes later with $300 cash, having just had someone absolutely worship me."

Josie simply wants to make enough money to "get by" while she studies visual art. Recently, she had her first Craigslist encounter. "The guy just wanted to watch porn and watch me touch myself," she says, adding that she wouldn't actually do the deed for money; she's afraid of STDs -- and the moral implication. "I know it's only a technicality, but I can still say I'm not a prostitute."