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#JoeyThePlayer Sentenced to the Max

Updated: Jun 30

On Wednesday, June 26th, 2024 #JoeyThePlayer, José Olivio Torres was sentenced to 30 years in prison for 4 counts of #SexTrafficking related charges, specifically “enticement” and “coercion” to cross state lines for the purposes of prostitution. No victims or survivors were arrested in the investigation or court proceedings of this case. He was brought to justice by sex workers who came forward and reported his violence to the FBI with the assistance of an attorney. 

The Sex Worker National Hotline Administrators had followed this case since 2012 when we started receiving calls from community members seeking to report violent encounters and where he was reportedly seeking victims under the guise of professional companionship.  

In 2018, the hotline received an unusual call from someone claiming to be an FBI agent seeking to locate Jose Torres' victims to build a case against him. Initially, the hotline agent was skeptical, as they were accustomed to prank calls and were dealing with backlash from the takedown of Backpage. However, the FBI agent was persistent and expressed anger over the disturbing reports circulating in underground networks about Torres' actions.

Surprisingly, the FBI agent responded positively to the hotline administrators' standard response, which offered to help locate an attorney to represent any potential victims who contacted the hotline. It's important to note that requests from law enforcement are not a common occurrence for us. When they do call, they are usually not interested in hearing what we have to say, especially when we refuse to divulge any information about our callers.

We attended the hearing on June 26th to support the brave survivors who came forward to speak their truth and see justice served. Judge Marinetti, who had presided over the case from start to finish, read a letter from an anonymous sex worker. The letter highlighted that Jose Torres had impacted every sex worker in North America and that tales of his violence had crossed not only the state of New Jersey but also state lines and even internationally. The anonymous sex worker asked the judge to impose the harshest possible sentence.

We were also there to witness the unfortunate—and all too common—reality of gratuitous violence against #SexWorkers and women in general.

Violence within and against our community comes from all sides. Law enforcement often hunts us to either arrest us under the guise of saving us, but not from someone like Joey, who had been reported for violent behavior to multiple local law enforcement offices over what we learned yesterday to be decades. Instead, they pick and choose the victims and the perpetrators as though they were randomly selected from a bingo card.

Sex workers have never expected much positive action from law enforcement and have rarely enjoyed protections or forms of justice from the criminal justice system or from institutional and societal structures that claim to want meaningful engagement with us. For decades, sex worker activists and advocates have paved a path to harm reduction, community-based outreach, and explained in great detail how full decriminalization would decrease the violence we experience daily.

Ironically, just like Joey, the anti-trafficking movement, largely made up of hyper-energized, under-informed, faith-based, greedy fearmongers, have co-opted our social justice language, distorted our policy recommendations, ignored our lived experience, drowned out our voices, and used their considerable political power to torture us.

In 2017, we fully expected SESTA/FOSTA—or really the threat of it—to have a horrific impact on our lives, but most of us didn’t know how bad it could and would get. Our distrust of law enforcement and our disdain for a criminal justice system that allowed predators of every sort to indiscriminately feed on our vulnerability turned out to be worse than we expected, with new unintended consequences continuing to bubble up regularly.

Then, COVID landed on our doorstep in 2020, taking our community to a new place of vulnerability. But right before the worldwide pandemic shutdowns started going into effect, a small miracle took place.

Jose Torres was arrested on February 14, 2020, and a wave of relief briefly allowed the sex worker community to doubtfully but enthusiastically celebrate.

Joey The Player, also known as José Olivio Torres, seemingly had two faces. On one hand, he was a professional accountant who had graduated from Rutgers University and worked for a prominent accounting firm, presenting himself as a relatively normal man with a heavy workload and frequent travel opportunities. On the other hand, he had a history of domestic violence and had grown up in El Salvador during a wartime conflict before fleeing to the United States for safety and opportunity. His father had died shortly before he was born, and many of his family members lived in both New Jersey and El Salvador. He reportedly had two daughters who fled the country to live with their biological mother, wisely escaping the notoriety of his violence against their mother and sex workers. Many of his family members attended the trial and visited him in jail, claiming to be completely unaware of his violent tendencies.

However, the evidence presented at trial told a completely different story. Here are some of the revelations from the sentencing hearing:

  • The FBI interviewed more than 30 victims, and the judge reiterated that the court was aware of likely hundreds more victims who were too afraid to come forward.

  • A search of Torres' home and office revealed more than 400 phone numbers and hundreds of email addresses he used to evade identification, as sex workers had put him on blacklists to warn each other of his whereabouts.

  • A search of those phones and emails showed he sent out between 60 and 150 texts and emails daily, trying to lure new victims to New Brunswick.

  • Torres had written nearly a million dollars in bad checks to sex workers.

Torres harassed the criminal justice system much like he had harassed sex workers for decades. He sued the prosecutor, the victims' attorney's firm, and even the judge, but these lawsuits were frivolous and baseless. He filed hundreds of self-written motions with the court and fired at least four attorneys. The court methodically sorted through his submissions, but most motions were denied, and the lawsuits were dismissed with prejudice.

In his defense, Torres' efforts to testify and the "apology" letter he wrote, hoping for leniency, only confirmed his lack of remorse. He argued that his "crime" was failing to pay the sex workers he lured, suggesting that the sex workers had enticed him and were therefore responsible. He repeatedly stated that his "real crime" was theft of services.

His uncle, a prominent accountant in New Jersey, supported Torres' efforts to be released by posting YouTube videos, maintaining a social media presence, and helping him locate names and addresses of sex workers and advocates to subpoena them for his defense. The uncle presented a victim impact statement at the sentencing hearing, reiterating the "failure to pay" as the problem, denying the assaults, and claiming that Torres was a great person who "helped people."

However, the judge was not swayed. The courtroom, packed with interns, judicial ethics representatives, other prosecutors, litigation specialists, Homeland Security, and FBI agents who had worked on the case, was not convinced by Torres' attempts to minimize his actions.

The court never once referred to the survivors as anything but sex workers and treated them with the utmost dignity and respect. The prosecutor, who argued passionately for the longest possible sentence, delivered a compelling rejection of José Torres' attempts to relitigate the case in which he had already been convicted by a jury of his peers.

The judge addressed each of Torres' comments and requests, ultimately deeming him unfit to remain among those who are free, even under the constraints of criminalization. The sentence was harsh. Torres' family, gathered outside the courtroom, displayed a look of defeat often seen in the faces of those who are confused by the duality of the person they love and thought they knew.

In stark contrast, Torres and his uncle continued to use demeaning language when speaking about the survivors and our community, dismissing the assaults as mere “complaints.” Torres insisted repeatedly that his primary regret was “not paying them” and claimed he couldn’t remember how many sex workers he had enticed, coerced, raped, assaulted, and forced to have unprotected sex with. There were too many to count, he said, and he couldn’t be expected to remember all of them.

Torres was sentenced to the maximum allowable term of 30 years. Unlike many state systems which require a convicted felon to serve 65% of their time before being considered for release, the federal prison system mandates that prisoners serve 80% of their time, equating to 20.8 years. Having already served four years while awaiting trial and sentencing in Newark, New Jersey, Torres will likely be sent to a prison in or around New Jersey and will be eligible for parole/release in approximately 24 years. He will be in his early 60s. Upon release, he will be required to serve 15 years of supervised probation and register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

We sat down with long-time activists and advocates before and after the hearing. We all agreed that we were most surprised—not by the length of the sentence or Torres’ flippant dismissal of his egregious actions as “rough sex”—but by the dignity and respect afforded by the court to the victims and survivors. The court acknowledged sex workers and sex work itself as a transaction between two consenting adults, emphasizing that consent given to exchange money for erotic services does not extend to assault and rape. We were greatly impressed by the court's recognition of our difficulties and our autonomy.

This case is going to be precedent-setting. The federal court system has determined that crimes against people who trade sex must be punished. They provided specific procedural language about what consent is, when it is invoked, who can give it, and—most importantly—who can withdraw it and when. As prison abolitionists and labor rights activists, we don’t support the idea of prisons, recognizing that their existence brings long standing issues. As sex workers, we don’t want any José Torres walking among us either. And as women, we would like to see more concern for the domestic violence issues that Torres was accused of, to prevent individuals like #JoeyThePlayer from developing into serial rapists. But this is the world we live in, and these are our current criminal justice offerings. In this one case, we will take it.

We can reduce violence against women and #HumanTrafficking when we work together to hold space and provide pathways to justice for all of us.

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