The Worst Kind of Monsters

What should be clear to anyone paying attention to the barrage of Backpage stories the media has been running with lately is that sex trafficking (of the sort Backpage’s diabolical co-creators Lacey and Larkin popularized, and shameless toady Tony Ortega defended publicly) is a heartless crime.

And indeed when a man from Madison WI was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison last Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson called the accused to account for exactly that: the “heartless crime” of sex trafficking three women and attempting to traffic another.

Erin Graham, 41, was convicted of several counts of human trafficking after a five-day jury trial in April. Between 2015 and 2017, Graham posted advertisements on Backpage.com and forced the women to engage in sex acts with those who responded to the advertisements.

The scheme was uncovered in April 2017 when one of the victims, Cindi, hid behind the front desk in a Madison hotel after Graham choked her. She was found by police after an employee called 911. Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Pfluger asked that Cindi be identified only by her nickname as she works toward rebuilding her life after being trafficked by Graham for 18 months.

“When I tried to leave, he tried to kill me,” Cindi said in a written statement to the court. She went on to call Graham “a monster.”

Graham’s girlfriend, Patience Moore, who Graham has children with, was sentenced to three years in June for helping him with the trafficking. Pfluger said though Moore helped Graham manipulate the women, she was also a victim.

Graham, who identified himself as “Sonny” to the women he trafficked, would first take the women on dates and make them various promises, such as paying for college, stable housing and money for their families. Instead, he manipulated them into doing sex work and kept all the money for himself.

Graham used different strategies to entrap the three women, including cutting them off from families and friends, emotionally manipulating them, choking them, beating them and encouraging drug addictions, Pfluger said.

Danielle Miller, who spoke at Graham’s sentencing, said he destroyed her pride and self-esteem to the point where she thought she needed him. Miller said he had been convinced by “Sonny” that he was trying to help her.

This case gets to the very heart of exactly why Tony Ortega’s beloved Backpage was, and is, so dangerous: It allowed monsters to manipulate the weak and vulnerable and it did so in the cold, calculating pursuit of profit.

As Daniel Miller told Graham at the sentencing hearing: “Sonny, you were a man who found me at my weakest, most vulnerable moment and in the guise of someone who would draw me out of that darkness, you drew me in further.”

If the pimps who used Backpage to take advantage of women are monsters what does that make the wanna-be kingpins who built Backpage with its dark promises of anonymity to pimps, allowing them to lure female victims further into that darkness and make Backpage rich?

By our reckoning that makes them heartless criminals, manipulative cowards, and the very worst kind of monsters.

 

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