Craigslist will pull its controversial "erotic services" section, called a front for prostitution by critics, following the arrest of a Boston medical student charged with murdering a masseuse he allegedly met on the classified ad site.
State attorneys general, who have intensified pressure on the company to eliminate the category, announced the move on Wednesday. "Erotic services" will be replaced an "adult" section that will be reviewed by employees of the site.
"Several weeks ago, we informed Craigslist of an impending criminal case that implicated its Web site," said New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo in a statement. "Rather than work with this office to prevent further abuses, in the middle of the night, Craigslist took unilateral action which we suspect will prove to be half-baked."
Pressure to remove the category ramped up this spring when Boston med student Philip Markoff, 23, was charged with killing Julissa Brisman, 25, who advertised erotic massage services on Craigslist.
Authorities say Markoff lured Brisman, of New York City, to a luxury hotel room in Boston April 14, where he tried to rob her at gunpoint. He allegedly killed her when she fought back.
He has also been charged in two other similar hotel crimes against women he allegedly met on Craigslist — the attempted robbery of a Las Vegas stripper in Rhode Island and the armed robbery of another erotic masseuse in Boston.
The move by Craigslist comes two months after Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart filed a lawsuit alleging the site not only allows the solicitation of prostitution but had created what he called the "largest source of prostitution in America."
"It's clear to everyone that Craigslist's 'erotic services' section was nothing more than an Internet brothel," said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in a statement.
Craigslist issued a statement confirming that the site would no longer accept postings to the "erotic services" section, effectively immediately, and that the category would be removed in seven days.
"Unsurprisingly, but completely contrary to some of the sensationalistic journalism we've seen these past few weeks, the record is clear that use of Craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds, let alone rates of violent crime pertaining to American society as a whole," the company said.
Craigslist attorney Eric Brandfonbrener, appearing in federal court for a hearing on the lawsuit, told U.S. District Judge John Grady that Craigslist is undergoing changes he expects to satisfy the lawsuit's concerns.
"My expectation is that it will be moot," Brandfonbrener told the judge.
Dart attorney Daniel Gallagher said he remained skeptical.
"They've made promises to attorneys general in the past," Gallagher said, noting that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had brokered an agreement with the site in November to crack down on prostitution ads after being contacted about several complaints about photographs depicting nudity.
"I'm not going to take their word for it, we want to see action," Gallagher said.
Madigan and the attorneys general for Connecticut and Missouri met with Craigslist officials last week seeking an end to ads they contend are advertisements for illegal sexual activities.
Madigan's office said Wednesday such existing ads on the site will expire in seven days, when the category is eliminated.
"We're very encouraged that Craigslist is doing the right thing in eliminating its online red light district with prostitution and pornography in plain sight. We'll be watching and investigating critically to make sure this measure is more than just a name change," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
"This is a good next step but by no means is it the ultimate or complete solution," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.