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.
As reported by MLive.com, the teenager sobbed while receiving a 9-to-20-year sentence in prison. Clay, whose name was inexplicably released by local press despite her status as a minor, had been offered up as bait in a Backpage post advertising sex with the underage girl. When the clients showed up at a Motel 6, MLive.com explained, they were met by an adult male, Trayvin Donnell Lewis, who used a realistic-looking airsoft gun to drive the clients to an ATM and rob them.
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.”
When the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) was signed into law in 2015, many advocates applauded the federal government effort to increase protections for underage victims of sex trafficking. The new federal law vastly expanded resources for criminal justice investigations and prosecutions, and mandated “problem-solving court programs” for teens and kids in the sex industry, such as outpatient treatment, job training, and family support services. That’s why Clay’s prison sentence, rather than the kind of support and treatment outlined by the JVTA, is surprising.
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
The Daily Dot reached out to Strickland via Facebook for comment but did not receive an immediate response.
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. According to MLive.com, in October Judge Jeffrey O’Hara was asked to lower Clay’s $50,000 bond so she could care for her kids. O’Hara refused.