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12 Investigates - Craigslist linked to rise in STDs

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Craigslist is apparently not only spreading around used furniture and cars. Researchers at New York University said they've linked a rise in sexually transmitted diseases to the free classified ad web site.

Looking for a bargain in this day and age usually means clicking on Craigslist.

It's the place to shop for bikes and used cars. People advertise pictures of new iPhones, their unwanted furniture, and in the last few years, even their bodies.

'The Internet's Dirty Secret' is the latest research out of New York University's Stern School of Business.

The authors link Craigslist to a 14% increase in the rate of new AIDS cases — that's more than 6,500 new infections each year. They said there's a similar increase in the number of syphilis cases.

"The ease of seeking sex partners through Craigslist's personal ads," wrote Jason Chan and Anindya Ghose, "has brought a culture of sexual openness to the younger generation not seen since the seventies."

Craigslist revenues from adult services was estimated at $45 million in 2010.

Four years ago, NBC12 was reporting about an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in greater Richmond. At the time, even the Health Department was pointing the finger at the internet.

"We're seeing lots of people finding their sex partners on the Internet, both straight and gay people. That does provide a challenge for public health and trying to reach out to those people for prevention," said Elaine Martin with the Virginia Department of Health back in 2008.

Not much has changed. In 2011, in metro Richmond HIV cases were up slightly. So were cases of chlaymidia.

In the Craigslist ads for Richmond this week, a man posted a picture of himself in towel, advertising he's at a hotel on Broad Street.

Another man was seeking college coeds for sex in Chesterfield.

And another person wanted to meet up for sex in The Fan.

"To just tune in on Craigslist isn't fair and it's not realistic," said Susan Tellier. She's the HIV testing coordinator for the Fan Free Clinic. She said it's the internet as a whole that's re-opened the door to risky behavior and casual sex.

"It's those instant connections that are even more concerning because people are responding to them and they're showing up to have sex. Just to have sex."

We even found a Richmonder advertising he's STD-free and discreet.

"When we test folks and we diagnose people. With HIV in particular, we ask them about their partners and how are they meeting partners," said Tellier.

And a 2010 survey found that nearly 700 people in greater Richmond admitted to having anonymous sex. Nearly 500 said they met that person online.

"The anonymity of being online and not being face to face has created some big challenges as far as the spread of HIV and other sexual transmitted infections," said Tellier.

We reached out to Craigslist for comment, but never heard back from the company.

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