The scam was pretty good, as scams go. A 15-year-old was used as bait on Backpages to lure the sort of twisted guy who wanted a young girl, only to be met by a guy with an Airsoft gun, who robbed him, including forcing him to go to the ATM to empty his bank account. After all, there is a good chance the robbery victim wouldn’t go crying to the cops that he was there to commit a crime of his own, right?
Yet, the scheme was revealed and the perps were caught and prosecuted, including the 15-year-old girl. That’s where the tears started flowing.
On Facebook, Latesha Clay looks like any other 15-year-old girl. Her hair pulled back into a ponytail, she wears mostly sweats and sneakers in blurry selfies taken with friends and her many siblings.
But on Jan. 11, Clay’s life took a drastic turn when she was sentenced to prison for up to 20 years. Her crime? The teen was the bait in a series of Backpage escort ads designed to lure men into a robbery scheme.
It only took two paragraphs to blow cred, since Clay received an indeterminate sentence of 9 to 20 years, so the “up to 20 years” falls a bit shy of informative. Still, what makes this different than the usual, and sound, arguments against excessive sentences?
Clay’s role in the actual robberies is unclear: According to local media reports, the actual robberies were performed at gunpoint (BB gun notwithstanding) by two other people away from the motel rooms.
However, Clay herself fits every guideline for qualifying as a trafficking victim just by virtue of being underage and sold online for sex. According to the Justice Department’s federal definition of sex trafficking, a person under 18 engaging in prostitution (even the mere “offering” of sex for sale) is automatically considered a trafficking victim regardless of whether a pimp or client used “force, threats of force, fraud, or coercion, or any combination of those means, to cause the minor to engage in a commercial sex act.”
There’s only one problem. Clay wasn’t engaged in a sex crime. The crime was robbery. There was never any sex involved. She was a lure for a robbery, not a victim of sex trafficking. But this distinction was completely lost.
— Carrie A. Goldberg (@cagoldberglaw) January 27, 2016
Clay was female. Clay was 15 years of age. Clay was part of a robbery scheme. Whether her involvement went beyond being used as bait, whether she got a cut of the loot, whether she wanted to participate or was somehow coerced into doing so, may all be a fair question. What is not a fair question is whether this had anything to do with sex trafficking.
Maybe Clay needed the money, as it’s hard for a 15-year-old to fulfill her financial obligations.
Clay’s last Facebook post was written on Aug. 24, bemoaning her impending imprisonment and the fact that it would take her away from her two young toddlers.
While this is, and should be, a cause of some concern, as children generally do better with a mother around to guide them, it goes unnoticed that this also gives rise to a strong motive for a young mother to become embroiled in crime. Like drug mules, there are incentives to think about.
And that’s where this push to relieve this sad 15-year-old of responsibility, under the guise that a robbery scheme can be turned into a sex trafficking claim, becomes a very disturbing dive into dogma that will harm young women.
The Daily Dot reached out to Kate D’Adamo, an advocate for trafficking victims at New York’s Sex Workers Project, for clarification on Clay’s sentencing.
“The problem with charging is the challenge between federal and state law. Under federal law, yes, she is a victim of trafficking, and probably under state law as well,” said D’Adamo in an email to Daily Dot. “That said, under state law she is also criminalized by prostitution (and proxy) laws. So while we recognize that criminalization isn’t what those trading sex underage need, it’s the laws that we choose to police which impact people.”
But Clay wasn’t involved in “trading sex underage.” She was involved in a robbery scheme against men who thought they were buying underage sex. Like the supposed drug dealers who robbed their drug buyers, they weren’t really selling drugs. That was the scam.
And if this conflation of dogma and reality works, it will serve as a huge incentive for young women to become embroiled, either on their own or at the behest of others, in criminal schemes under the guise of being the victims of sex trafficking, even though there is no connection with it at all. The trick will be that their engagement in crime, while under cover of pretending to be victims, will enable them to commit crimes, then escape prosecution and punishment.
There are good reasons why drug dealers use women, usually with children, as mules. Is your purpose to create similar incentives for robbers to seek out young girls to engage in robbery? Is this really the way you want to “help” them?
So is passionate advocate Carrie Goldberg right that this was a “huge fuckup”? Definitely, but it’s not the “huge fuckup” she’s talking about. And apparently, the tears aren’t working for her.
In the courtroom as Clay was sentenced, her mother and siblings sat crying in the gallery. Clay’s mother, Melissa Strickland, made a GoFundMe fundraiser to try and hire an attorney for her daughter. The fundraiser has only received $20 in the month since it was posted.
im trying to raise money to get my daughter a paid for lawyer..she has a court appointed one but dont think shes getting a good deal out of it..anything helps please share..trying to get her home with her family and her 2 beutiful kids
Maybe the best way to “get her home with her family and her 2 beutiful kids” is to not push incentives to get her involved in a robbery gang in the first place. And it would likely help if someone had suggested that it’s really not a good thing for a 15-year-old to have two toddlers to feed as well.