Poetic Justice for Sex Trafficking Profiteers

Poetic Justice for Sex Trafficking Profiteers

Backpage, the human sex trafficking website Tony Ortega worked so hard to legitimate and normalize, may be gone but its dark reverberations are still felt in communities everywhere.

That said, it’s not often that good news comes out of the sickening world of sex trafficking, where tens of thousands of children and young women are sold for sex each night across the country. So when we here at the blog find news worth celebrating, we share it with you. And the extraordinary news we learned this week is exactly that.

There’s a new strategy being rolled out by law enforcement which may soon have folks like Tony Ortega’s former employers – the ones Ortega obscenely referred to as “the men smart enough to start Backpage” – running in fear.

We’ve seen how behemoth sex trafficking rings like Backpage were raided and shut down and how, since that time, authorities have been cracking down on the lucrative Backpage clone sites that have popped up in its wake.

Now the feds are starting to hit sex traffickers where it really hurts – the pocket book, by forcing them to pay restitution to the victims of their criminal schemes. 

Restitution, long awarded in civil actions and other criminal convictions, is increasingly being sought and awarded by judges hearing sex-trafficking cases like the one brought against Tony’s bosses Michael Lacey and James Larkin.

In June of last year, for example, a Backpage sex trafficker named Gregory Bowden, in Texas was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison and ordered to pay his victim nearly $330,000 in restitution.

What most readers won’t know is that unless prosecutors work with the victims to tally up and specifically ask for monetary restitution, none will be awarded. So, the trafficker, even after being convicted of a crime, is often allowed to keep the proceeds of enslaving and prostituting young adults and minors.

As we have said in the past, there is no making up for the harm inflicted on trafficking victims, both the harm done by pimps and the heartless opportunists like Ortega who gleefully defended their actions for a slice of the Backpage profit.

But subjecting traffickers to financial restitution claims may be the most effective way to shut down these lingering, post-Backpage operations for good. And now it’s being sought and awarded more often than ever in human-trafficking and sex-trafficking cases nationwide.

According to the 2019 Federal Human Trafficking Report, published annually by the Human Trafficking Institute, the number of federal human-trafficking defendants ordered to pay restitution increased from 25% in 2016 to 39.9% in 2019. Which means, according to HTI’s calculations, the average restitution in sex-trafficking cases was about $185,000 but went as high as $2 million.

If it’s one thing that we’ve learned from the shameful example Tony Ortega has set, it is that greedy cowards will do anything they can to keep their hands on whatever money they manage to squirrel away.  

The idea of being made to give up their profits is terrifying to them, which is precisely why the real possibility that Tony Ortega’s Backpage bosses may have to forfeit their ill-gotten gains in restitution to the very individuals they exploited to get rich in the first place is nothing short of poetic justice.

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