Backpage, Tony Ortega and The Company You Keep

Over the past decade or more, marketing for prostitution began to migrate to the Internet, as website operators have sought to enable buyers and sellers of sex to maintain their anonymity and minimize the risk of detection by law enforcement.

Named for the infamous “Back Page” of the Village Voice newspaper, became the primary destination for buying and selling illegal commercial sex online, accounting for 80 percent or more of all revenue from online commercial sex advertising in the United States.

Virtually all of Backpage’s net revenue—more than 99 percent—was directly attributable to advertisements appearing in its “Adult Category,” and its net profit in 2015 alone was estimated at $135 million. Indeed, at its height Backpage and its affiliates were valued at more than $600 million.

As recently as January 2017, Backpage operated in 97 countries and 943 geographic locations across six continents globally.

It is estimated that tens of thousands of children were trafficked for sex on Backpage annually in the United States, with the average age of first exploitation for these children is only 15 years old. According to reports from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the leading nonprofit organization in the United States working with law enforcement to combat sex trafficking of children, “73% of the suspected child trafficking reports it receives from the public involve Backpage.”

Ask yourself, what would it say of a man who would repeatedly publicly defend such an operation? What would it say about a man who participated in making money of the sale children for sex? This is the business model Tony Ortega’s employers created. This was the company he kept.

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