Wisconsin Man Convicted of Sex Trafficking on Backpage

April 16, 2019 Updated: April 17, 2019

A man from Madison, Wisconsin, was found guilty by a federal jury—after a five-day trial—of seven counts of sex trafficking on the now-defunct Backpage.com, the Department of Justice announced on April 15.

Erin F. Graham Jr., 37, engaged in sex trafficking between 2015 and 2017 by “force, coercion, and fraud.” He transported individuals across state lines with the intent that they engage in prostitution.

Graham committed the crimes by posting advertisements on Backpage—the largest human-trafficking portal in the United States—and forced or coerced individuals who responded to the advertisements to commit commercial sex acts. Specifically, he transported two individuals between Wisconsin and Virginia with the intent they engage in prostitution.

The FBI shut down Backpage in April 2018. In the same month, President Donald Trump signed into law the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or SESTA-FOSTA, that stopped the shielding of website operators from state criminal charges or civil liability if they facilitate sex ads or prostitution.

Graham’s scheme was uncovered by law enforcement officials on April 2017 when they found one the victims at a Madison hotel. A hotel employee at the time called 911 after the victim ran from her room bleeding and hid behind the front desk. The victim was strangled to the point of unconsciousness by Graham when she told him she wanted to leave.

In their testimony, the victims said they were forced to engage in prostitution and to hand over the money they earned to Graham and his girlfriend, Patience Moore, 28, of Madison. The victims said they were the only source of income for Graham and his girlfriend. Moore pleaded guilty on March 14 for her role in the sex trafficking scheme.

“Through violence and coercion, Graham exploited vulnerable young women into committing commercial sex acts for his profit,” U.S. Attorney Scott C. Blader said in a statement. “In the process the victims were often degraded and robbed of their human dignity. We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to bring human traffickers to justice.”

Graham’s sentencing is scheduled for July 1. He faces a mandatory minimum penalty of 15 years and a maximum of life in federal prison. Moore will be sentenced on June 5 and also faces a maximum of life in federal prison.

Demand Down

A report shared with The Epoch Times on April 11 found that demand for online sex-trafficking has dropped as the operators of smaller sites struggle to stay afloat, following the shutdown of Backpage.

The report by Childsafe.ai—the world’s first artificial intelligence platform for monitoring, graphing, and modeling child-exploitation risk on the web—detailed how the industry has since been fragmented across dozens of websites, all competing fiercely for market share. No single dominant site emerged in the past year as the popularity of the online economy “remains volatile and shifts quickly.”

One key finding from the report—that’s prepared for use by law enforcement agencies across the United States—was that web traffic to advertising websites selling sex drew only 5 to 8 percent of the total unique visitors of Backpage drew at its height in 2016.

After Backpage was shut down, a number of other popular sites at the time also closed down or discontinued their activities. As a consequence, the search volume for sex dropped 90 percent in the months following April 2018, the report found.

Follow Bowen on Twitter: @BowenXiao3