What is it that Tony Ortega finds so fascinating about the rape of teenage girls?
The nation was horrified and inspired by the dramatic story of Tamara Brooks, 16, and Jacqueline Marris, 17, who were abducted at gunpoint by a thug named Roy Dean Ratliff, 37, with a long rap sheet for burglary and drug possession, and wanted by the law for his alleged rape of a 19-year-old relative.
The girls were brutally raped, but fought back. When Ratliff drunkenly drowsed off, they attacked him with a Bowie knife and a bottle, injured him and locked him out of his stolen Ford truck. They only unlocked the door when he pulled his gun and threatened to shoot them through the window.
Ratliff was later gunned down by sheriff’s deputies when he again pulled a gun. At the time, the deputies said, he was looking for a quiet place to kill and bury his victims. They were saved just in time.
Police had launched a massive 12-hour manhunt for the girls, including the first use of the AMBER Alert system that as of 2023 has led to the recovery of 1,127 children.
The girls’ survival marked them as courageous and tenacious and they were praised and featured on several national news shows and magazines. Tamara Brooks told Katie Couric on one of those shows, “[Jackie and I] want to get the message across to everybody to never give up on anything. If you ever give up, you’ve lost. Whatever obstacles you have, you’ve got to fight your way through it.”
On April 30, 2003, both girls were guests at the signing by President George W. Bush of the PROTECT Act of 2003. The act standardized and codified the AMBER Alert system nationally and provided new law enforcement tools to protect children against sexual abductors and predators.
Tony Ortega saw nothing to praise in the two teenagers, but only a chance to write a twisted mockery that victimized them again. Ortega made up a totally fictional story that ran in New Times Los Angeles, where he worked at the time, that NBC was developing a reality series to be called Survive This! and had signed Marris and Brooks to “star” as contestants.
In his phony show concept, Ortega wrote that young potential rape victims would be placed in a remote area along with several paroled sex offenders, and the girls would try for 48 hours to escape without being raped, the cameras rolling the whole time. He put words in the mouth of one fictional network executive: “I’d say it’s Survivor meets Hannibal Lecter.” And Ortega’s fictional show producer said of the vicious thug who raped Brooks and Marris, “He may have been a psycho with a death wish, but at least he had good taste in victims.”
Ortega had the “producer” wondering how to determine the “winner”: “Is it the contestant who escapes the most unscathed, or the one who escapes the most, well, scathed? Clothes getting ripped off would boost ratings.”
The Hollywood Reporter picked up the story, NBC vehemently denied any such idea had ever existed, and the story ricocheted around Hollywood until Ortega himself announced that the entire story was a hoax—and blamed it on the phantom reporter “Antoine Oman,” never owning up to it as his story. [Clue: Tony (Antoine) Ortega (O-man).]
Ortega carried on with the despicable ruse, claiming the reporter had been identified and fired.
In New York’s The Daily Cannibal, Burt Kozloff wrote: “Tony Ortega takes two teenagers, already brutally raped by thugs, and editorially sodomizes them by appropriating their identities, putting lies in their mouths, and pimping them as shameless opportunists.”
Tony Ortega, of course, passed off the whole thing as “satire.” But no one was laughing at his trivializing the threat to their lives the two young women faced and their bold refusal to succumb to it.
Ortega survived the fury and went on to work for New Times in several more cities, shamelessly continuing to foist more false stories on unsuspecting readers.
Ortega’s “small number” was refuted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that calculated 73 percent of all child trafficking reports they received involved Backpage.com. FAIR Girls, another support group for underage prostitution victims, said virtually all of their clients, including girls as young as 11, were featured on Backpage.com.
Ortega ranted: “The First Amendment was shouted down in the name of children. Having run off Craigslist (another advertising media for sex ads), reformers, the devout, and the government-funded have turned their guns upon Village Voice Media….It is true that Village Voice Media has a stake in this discussion. But the facts speak for themselves.”
Teenage rape victims, underage girls and boys forced into prostitution—they’re all just collateral damage to the likes of Tony Ortega.