How Texas Just Became Backpage’s Worst Nightmare

We’ve been taking an in-depth look in recent weeks at the government’s federal case against Backpage and the soulless monsters who built a child sex trafficking empire. Increasingly we’re seeing individual states filing their own charges and taking their own stands against these evil doers.

One such state working hard to ensure the victims of Backpage sex traffickers receive justice is Texas.

Experts and victims’ advocates tell us that Texas won’t make a serious dent in the scourge that is human sex trafficking until there are equal parts aggressive prosecution of the criminals and efforts to help thousands of exploited women and girls rebuild their lives.

Though there’s much work to do, Texas has one of the most coordinated law enforcement efforts in the country. One only has to look at the almost weekly headlines of local, state and federal officials putting another Backpage child sex trafficker behind bars.

Now, there’s promising evidence that the people responsible for ruining the lives of these women and girls are increasingly being forced to contribute to helping restore them.

The latest news came recently out of the Dallas federal courthouse. An admitted Backpage pimp, Gregory Bowden, pleaded guilty to recruiting his 19-year-old victim in 2014 using the platform James Larkin and Michael Lacey created. Using Backpage he forced her into prostitution from Odessa to Euless to Corpus Christi. U.S. District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater sentenced him to 11 years in prison.

What is particularly noteworthy in this judgement, however, is the fact that Judge Fitzwater also ordered Bowden to pay his victim $332,990 in restitution.

Fitzwater — who’s been on the federal bench since he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 — sent a major message that the punishment for these insidious crimes must include a significant amount of direct redress for the years of horrors they’ve inflicted in these multimillion-dollar enterprises Backpage made possible.

New federal laws mandate even greater restitution in federal human trafficking cases. But a review from the Human Trafficking Institute shows that in 2017, restitution was awarded in only 27% of the cases across the country. Too often, prosecutors didn’t request it or judges didn’t grant requests.

Fitzwater’s order signals a welcome renewed focus in the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Northern District of Texas to hold the criminals accountable to their victims. It was hopeful sign to see U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox say in a statement that her office is committed to seeking restitution in every human trafficking case it can.

U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox, Northern District of Texas writes: “Human trafficking represents not only a threat to the safety of our community, but it robs victims of their dignity and freedom. We know restitution can never erase the pain victims endure at the hands of their traffickers, but we hope it can help ease their paths to better lives.”

Texas’s ramped-up strategy could become a model for other states.  The encouraging progress Texas is making in recent months to strengthen laws tackles the lingering Backpage fallout on two fronts: assessing stiffer penalties for perpetrators and creating a smoother path forward for victims exploited by Backpage.

Starting September 1, victims who are sexually exploited can receive probation and the critical opportunity to clear their criminal records. The State of Texas is pledging to help them get legitimate jobs and the treatment they need.

As reported, it was Backpage where Bowden — like thousands of others — advertised his victim’s services and then used violence to force her into sex acts across Texas. Realizing this fact, Texas is making the extraordinary move to codify the promotion of prostitution online as a felony state offense. Those involving multiple victims under age 18 could be classified as aggravated offenses punishable by up to life in prison.

But Texas isn’t stopping there. In yet another new state law, operating a “stash house” has officially been made illegal. Now any seized assets from these criminal “stash houses” will be given to victim services or local nonprofits that help sex trafficking crime victims.

Of course no amount of money can erase the lasting effects of the violence and degradation heaped on those ensnared into this life by Backpage and its equally deprived advocates like Tony Ortega. But victims can incur years of costly medical and counseling services and Texas is taking the brave first steps in working to undo some of the damage those behind Backpage for too long profited from.

Restitution can kick-start a life outside this madness. And we here at the blog sincerely hope that District Court Judges from other states (indeed, all those charged with meting out justice in these Backpage cases at any level) will follow Texas’s lead and ensure there continues to be ample justice provided to the victims.

We still have questions as to when Tony Ortega will be made accountable for his involvement with Backpage.

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