Backpage Trial Watch: A Taste Of What’s to Come

It wasn’t that long ago that Backpage.com was considered something akin to the Walmart or Amazon of the sex industry, where people could find thousands of sex services listed on the classified ad website.

Previously we’ve told the story of how the site rocketed to popularity in 2010, around the time when Craigslist shut down its adult services section. When that happened, Backpage became the go-to for pervy creeps everywhere. (Any wonder a specimen like Tony Ortega would become the site’s most outspoken pitchman?)

Within eight years, Backpage hosted 80 percent of online sex ads with profits increasing to $154.8 million, according to research through Ohio State University.

As Det. Brent Huhman with Wichita Police Department’s Exploited and Missing Child Unit described it, “Back Page needed to be shut down… It absolutely did. What they were doing was exploiting — not just juveniles — they were they were exploiting people. They’re exploiting women, and they were very open about what they were doing on those sites.”

Backpage’s adult services section hosted ads like escort services and massage parlors. It was nothing short of a hotbed for human trafficking which (as we saw again and again) leads to missing people.

Despite this, Tony Ortega defended the user-posted advertisements, adamant that his employers were not responsible for any illegal activity tied to the ads. The company falsely claimed it had moderators looking at posts to prevent children from being exploited. However, as we all saw, they actively pushed moderators to approve the sites sex ads, as Backpage continued to charge for those listings.

Since the federal indictment we have learned that instead Backpage would routinely alter ads so they would meet their standards for approval, like revising or removing a child’s age; this would enable the site to publish more classifieds and make more money.

By April 2018, the government seized Backpage.com and charged seven people in a 93-count federal indictment with  crimes of conspiracy to facilitate prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce, facilitating prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce, conspiracy to commit money laundering, concealment money laundering, international promotional money laundering, and transactional money laundering.

In a few months begins the trial that many hungry for justice for the victims of sex trafficking have long been waiting for, as the kingpins who ran the show and the yelping lap dogs like Tony Ortega who defended them may finally get a taste of what’s coming to them.

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