There is no way to sanitize what happened to 16-year-old Desiree Robinson.
Authorities say a man twice Robinson’s age pimped her out to a man who sexually abused her, beat her, then slit her throat and left her on the floor of a garage in Markham.
Her body was found on Christmas Eve. She’d been missing from her grandparents’ home a couple of weeks.
Within days, Cook County prosecutors charged Antonio Rosales with the teen’s murder.
But it took nearly six months for the feds to charge Joseph Hazley, 33, with sex trafficking.
Hazley, who, according to his Facebook page, is a graduate of DuSable High School, faces at least 10 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors have said Hazley advertised the teen as “companionship” on Backpage.com and paid for the ads in bitcoin.
How Robinson ended up with a pimp remains a mystery, though I suspect there are more shocking details to come.
Because Hazley allegedly used Backpage.com to get customers, the dead girl’s mother, Yvonne Ambrose, is suing Rosales, Backpage.com and nine other entities.
“Backpage.com defendants knowingly created and managed an online marketplace for sex trafficking on http://www.backgage.com and then helped sex traffickers create and develop their sex ads so the Backpage.com defendants could profit from the ads,” the lawsuit says.
“I anticipate at some point in the future will be naming Hazley as a defendant,” Gina A. DeBoni, Ambrose’s attorney, said Friday.
Attorneys for Backpage.com could not be reached.
Last year, Alisha Walker, 23, was convicted of second-degree murder for stabbing veteran Brother Rice High School teacher to death. Al Filan, 61, had contacted Walker, a prostitute, through an ad on Backpage.com.
Though prostitution is illegal in Illinois, Backpage.com has been the go-to website for prostitutes, authorities have said.
Earlier this year, when the website shut down its “adult section,” where sex ads flourished, a group calling itself the Sex Workers Outreach Project protested in the Loop.
Teens who say they’ve been victimized on the site have started speaking out, too. In January, five teenage girls sued Backpage.com, saying they were advertised on the site and that it helped “traffickers avoid the law by doctoring ads used to sell sex.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has said 75 percent of the suspected child-trafficking reports it gets from the public involve Backpage.com, according to Ambrose’s lawsuit.
Still, stopping the exploitation of girls on the website has been difficult.
Though the California attorney general’s office charged the website’s CEO Carl Ferrer and two partners with 39 criminal counts of money laundering, pimping and conspiracy over allegations of sex trafficking and child sex trafficking, a judge rejected the pimping charges, citing the federal Communications Decency Act. That law grants immunity to website operators for content posted by users.
In Cook County, Sheriff Tom Dart has been on the front line of the fight to shut down the sex ads. In 2015, he wrote letters to Visa and MasterCard asking the credit-card companies not to allow their cards to be used to place ads on the website.
Backpage.com responded by suing Dart. The case is pending in federal court.
“Sheriff Dart’s actions have not only infringed Backpage.com’s rights to publish and distribute speech, but the rights of millions of the website’s users to post and receive protected speech,” a spokesperson said.
Ambrose is making the case that Backpage.com “not only told sex traffickers how to avoid detection by law enforcement, but they actively sanitized sex ads to make it less obvious that the ads were for sex,” according to the lawsuit.
There’s no way to sanitize this nasty business.
Robinson was an underage girl who was victimized twice: by a pimp and by the company that allowed the pimp to advertise her.
Like videos posted on Facebook showing murders-in-progress, ads marketing young girls for sex can’t be tolerated.