Online classifieds website Craigslist broke its silence over the abrupt closure of its "adult services" section and said the shutdown was permanent.
Craigslist removed adult services ads on September 3 following months of pressure from state law enforcement officials and advocacy groups which had charged that they facilitated prostitution.
But the quirky San Francisco-based website had declined until Wednesday to provide an explanation for the sudden removal of the ads for escort, massage and other services.
In an appearance before a congressional committee looking into the sexual trafficking of minors, William Powell, a Craigslist director, said the site had "no plans to reinstate the category."
"Those who formerly posted ads in the adult services category will now have to advertise elsewhere," Powell, Craigslist's director of customer service and law enforcement relations, told the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
Powell said the decision to no longer run adult services ads applied only to the United States at the moment and that erotic services categories remained on Craigslist sites in other countries, including Canada.
"It's my understanding that there are a number of issues country by country as well as legal issues for that," Powell said, stressing that "97 percent of our viewers and users are in the United States and Canada."
Craigslist counsel Elizabeth McDougall said the site was working with the Canadian authorities but there had been no request from Canada to remove adult services ads there.
"They are a sovereign nation," she told the committee. "We don't believe that it's appropriate for the US policy to dictate what Canada's policy should be with respect to the Craigslist website and adult services."
Craigslist shut down the link to its adult services section in the United States on September 3, replacing it with the single world "censored."
The "censored" tag was removed a few days later but the adult services section on Craigslist.org -- which offers free and paid advertising for everything from houses to babysitters to furniture for sale -- had disappeared.
Powell and McDougall made it clear they believed Craigslist had been turned into something of a scapegoat and stressed the efforts the site has made to monitor adult services ads, including pre-screening of all submissions and working with state law enforcement and advocacy groups.
"Craigslist has been one of the few bright spots and success stories in the critical fight against trafficking and child exploitation," Powell said.
Powell also took a swipe at newspaper coverage of the controversy, saying "the incidence of crime relating to use of Craigslist is extremely low.
"But despite Craigslist's best efforts, it is not and cannot be zero, and any incidence of crime across tens of millions of people will generate enough crime stories to keep the newspapers, who compete with us in the classifieds business, busy reporting," he said.
Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said removing adult services ads on Craigslist was a "positive and constructive step" but "the problem is much wider than Craigslist."
Nicholas Sensley, chief of police of Truckee, California, agreed, saying Craigslist is "only one of many" sites offering adult services ads and "to their credit, not nearly the worst."
© AFP 2013