Florida’s Sex Trafficking Problem Exploded Under Backpage

Marco Orego

Recently we received a question from a reader who mentioned a terrifying story about a man facing a life sentence for the role he played in prostituting a young girl  using Backpage in 2017.

The reader asked if we might take a closer look at what is happening in Florida with regards to Backpage sex trafficking and what we discovered concerned us deeply.

More than 20 million people are subjected to forced labor every year, and 22% (4.5 million) are victims of forced sexual exploitation. It’s been a problem in almost all countries for a long time and over the past few years it has become a big issue in Florida. Yet another recent case of three men accused of kidnapping a 19-year-old woman in Boynton Beach and trying to force her into prostitution is among a rapidly growing number of reported human trafficking incidents in Florida, state officials say.

The Florida Department of Children and Families counted nearly 1,900 reports of human trafficking statewide in 2016, owing in large part to the then rising influence of Backpage. It was a 54 percent increase from the previous year.

As we’ve described before, advocates for victims have called human trafficking modern-day slavery. Under state and federal law, however, it is defined as soliciting, recruiting, harboring, transporting or otherwise obtaining another person to exploit him or her for labor, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation.

Said Sheila Gomez, executive director of the Catholic Charities Diocese of Palm Beach, one of Palm Beach County’s largest family service nonprofits:

“Human trafficking is something that can go on right before your eyes and you might not recognize it”

According to the Polaris Project — a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. that tracks the number of calls to the national trafficking hotline — Florida had the third-highest number of reported cases in 2016, behind only California and Texas. South Florida’s popularity among tourists and its transient populations help make it a popular target for the crime, some authorities say.

Dymond estimates about 2,100 women in Palm Beach County alone are being commercially sexually exploited, not including those who are trafficked online. Women and men in drug recovery are particularly vulnerable to being manipulated by traffickers, she said. Adding:

“All they have to do is go ‘Hey, you can have as much coke as you want.’ That’s one of the tools they use to manipulate and maintain control.”

Indeed, control is one of the major themes we see again and again in stories involving Backpage. The coerced control by the pimps of their innocent victims, and the vile manipulative attempt to control of the media narrative of Backpage by propagandists like Tony Ortega.

The first step in breaking this cycle of control is to shed light on men like Tony Ortega who would prefer to keep you in the dark. That’s why we’re here. We’ll have more on this story as we learn more.

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