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tv   Nightline  ABC  January 13, 2017 12:37am-1:07am EST

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this is a special edition of "nightline." daughters for sale. investigating back page. tonight -- >> when i grow up, i'd like to be a doctor. >> an innocent teenager sold for sex on the internet. >> they took everything from my little girl. >> her heart-broken parents testifying on capitol hill, against the men who allegedly made it all possible. >> they're making a whole lot of money, selling children. >> the executives behind back page.com. a site authorities called the world's top online brothel. >> hi, we've been looking for you. >> chased down in a year-long, "nightline" investigation. >> we just want to ask you a few questions. >> now, explosive new allegations. >> to be clear, this is a crime. >> and a former employee speaking out about the company's inner workings. this special edition of "nightline," daughters for sale,
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investigating back page, will be right back.
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to stop it. this week, a major breakthrough with the senate finding evidence that the executives of back page douk were not only aware that minors were being sold for sex through ads on the site, but went to lengths to hide it. here's abc's gloria riviera. >> how are you doing? >> reporter: for parents tom and nicole, it's a long awaited day of reckoning. >> good to see you. >> reporter: they've come to the capital for a major hearing. >> it's time to accept that child sex trafficking has entered the digital age. >> reporter: targeting back page.com, the controversial website they say destroyed their daughter's childhood. >> back page is a $600 million company, built on selling sex, and importantly, on selling sex with children. >> reporter: the company's suited executives forced to stand and listen to a damning indictment on a national stage.
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>> those children were still sold! they just tried to sanitize it. that, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of evil. simply evil. >> reporter: i first met tom and nicole last spring. >> yeah, they took everything from my little girl. >> when i grow up, i'd like to be a doctor. >> reporter: just a few short years after that video was taken, tom and nicole's ten 15-year-old daughter who we'll call natalie, would be sold for sex to the escort listings on back page.com. >> how many encounters do you think you had during that time? >> over 150. >> reporter: over 150? >> yeah. >> reporter: what would have been possible without back page? >> no. >> reporter: a high school freshman, she got a bad grade in school and decided to run away. never suspecting that a childish rebellion would lead her on a dark path, into the hands of a pimp. what did he say to you about back page? >> he said it's safer. said, it's easier not to get
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caught. put me in all these clothes. took some pretty provocative pictures of me. and then, go to back page and you can click on to post an ad. >> reporter: back page say basic classified ad site with racy sections for escorts and body rubs. technically, what law enforcement calls thinly veiled code for prostitution. >> he started getting physically abusive and he would sleep in the living room next to the front door, so i couldn't, like, leave. >> reporter: how often did you work? >> every single day. it's too simple. ask you if you're 18 or older. a simple yes click was about as far as that went. >> reporter: whoever owns back page, he's got to go home at night and know he's selling kids today. he's just as accountable as the pimp that sold her, in my mind. >> reporter: in the past, many have filed lawsuits claiming
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back page facilitates prostitution. but a law protects the site. >> i think the most important parts of the communications decency act, it protects freedom of speech on the internet. if you have someone selling a stolen car on your website, and you don't know that the car is stolen, you are now not responsible for the selling of a stolen vehicle. >> you're not liable for what's on your site? is that one way to interpret it? >> you really aren't necessarily liable for the postings of other people. >> reporter: and so the dallas-based company flourished, worth an estimated $500 million. while ceo carl ferrer and other back page top brass have remained out of the public eye. last year, we decided to investigate back page. after talking to natalie's family and others who have lived through the same nightmare. who weren't yet ready to step out of the shadows. >> so between her going and you finding crystal's photo on back page.com, how much time? >> about 48 hours.
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but i remember that she had on the -- the see-through lacy teddy. >> reporter: she's 14. >> and she's 14. >> i called the cops and told the cops what was going on. >> reporter: what did you tell them? >> i told them my daughter had been posted on back page and that she was only 15. they needed to do something, they had to go get her. >> reporter: we teamed up with seattle's vice squad to find out how simple it was for young girls to be sold online. this detective created an ad for an 18-year-old girl with the mention of a younger friend. >> and here's the kicker. ask about my younger friend. >> reporter: within minutes, the ad was up and running. it's essentially advertising an under-age girl. >> oh, my god. we've gotten several phone calls, several texts. >> they're really coming in. >> hey beautiful, are you angel?
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>> right then, it's another one. it hasn't even been up for half an hour. this is crazy. >> reporter: this post actually led to a real-life arrest. >> stay here, stay here. >> he tried to bolt. >> police, you're under arrest. >> tactics like this are becoming common place across the country. back page did tell us they make sure to cooperate with law enforcement investigations. >> ready? >> is there splinters in there? >> reporter: but for girls like natalie, it's not about catching johns, but holding the men behind back page accountable. we followed the paper trail to amsterdam, the red light district and legalized prostitution, looking for ceo carl ferrer. >> reporter: we're in amsterdam, did carl ferrer own any companies in amsterdam? >> we discovered ferrer seems to be running a few other escort
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websites from here, including a site called cracker, available nearly everywhere except the united states. >> reporter: carl ferrer has turned down several of our interview requests. we've come to this hotel in amsterdam, because we found out there's a conference carl is scheduled to attend. turned out, he's an active member of the classified ad industry. >> it's a chance for me to talk to other ceos in the industry and share ideas. >> reporter: he attends a networking conference every year. it doesn't take long before we spot him. >> carl? carl ferrer? >> yeah. >> i'm gloria riviera with abc news. we just want to ask you a few questions. >> i'm fine. >> law enforcement tells us that under-age girls are trafficked on your site, back page.com. >> i'm sorry. >> you're a father. he wants to know why this is going on. >> what would you like to see in
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an ideal world happen to back page? >> i think they're guilty of a criminal act. and it's reprehensible what they're doing. they're selling kids. they know they're doing it. they justify it. and they should be held accountable for that. all of them. >> mr. ferrer, you're charged with ten counts -- >> reporter: and back in october, the state of california tried. ferrer and co-founders were arrested and charged with pimping. the first time they've faced criminal charges. in the courtroom, back page's lawyers again argued that the charges were in violation of their first amendment rights. >> it's already a situation where the rights of these defendants individually have been harmed considerably. >> reporter: and the judge sided with back page's defense, dismissing all charges, citing the communications decency act. they've touted their system for screening their adult ads,
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employing moderators, a filter for key words. in 2012, their attorney told "nightline" -- >> online child exploitation exists, and the best tools to fight it are also online. and back page.com is currently one of the very best tools to fight it. >> reporter: claiming they report suspicious ads to the national center for missing and exploited children. back page maintains it has monitoring programs and it also told "nightline" that back page is online to fight human trafficking. >> i don't think you can be in the business of providing basically an online bazaar for escort ads that includes of purchase and sale of children for sex and say that you are online to help fight the problem. >> reporter: in fact, 73% of the reports they receive from the public about suspected under-age trafficking involved a back page post. which is why two u.s. senators
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have made it their mission to uncover the truth. >> i'm betting, when we get all the financials, they're not making much money selling motorcycles, but they're making a whole lot of money selling children. >> reporter: when we come back, the new explosive revelations from internal company documents. >> these are the practices of a corporation intent on profiting from human trafficking and human misery. >> is this the turning point that natalie and her family have been waiting for? ever try something so good, you get hungry just thinking about it?
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controversial website backpage.com has led us here to the capital. where this week a contentious face-off between the senate and the men behind backpage is under way. here as well, tom and nicole, along with other parents whose children were sold for sex on the site. >> the subcommittee published a staff report yesterday afternoon that conclusively shows that backpage has been more deeply complicit in online sex trafficking. >> this is not about curbing first amendment rights. >> a backpage moderator stated and i quote, any time we saw the word young, we were to edit it out. >> through an automatic filter system, the site would remove words like lolita or little girl. perhaps most shockingly, amber alert from adult ads and allow them to be posted to the site anyway. backpage's lawyer said this automatic filter was a tool to help them fight trafficking.
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>> the fact that these terms were stripped out through the screening process does not mean that that girl's age was changed. >> reporter: on the witness stand, they all declined to testify. >> after consultation with counsel, i decline to answer your question. >> reporter: again backpage calling this a violation of their first amendment rights. >> this report details how carl ferrer and backpage, from the top on down, knew what was going on. what does that mean for backpage? >> i think it potentially means liability. when you proactively and actively decide to filter out certain terms, that's a game-changer, because you're talking about active participation. >> reporter: just hours before the hearing, backpage shut down its entire adult services section, replacing the page system a banner saying, the government has unconstitutionally censored this content. >> it was not censorship, no one
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told them to do that. >> gloria riviera, abc news. now that you've read the report, what do you have to say to that? any comment at all for the parents who are here today? the victim's parents? >> reporter: and without answers from backpage bosses, we contacted a former employee whose testimony was included in that report. she agreed to speak to us in shadow. >> the way they described the job as a moderator, is that we would be monitoring ads that came through the site for our adult content section. the ads would basically be, hey, come have a good time with honey, no rain coats would be code word for no condoms. so if the ad did get deleted, they would take $5 and post five more ads of the same one. you know just deleted this ad, and ten minutes later, you're seeing it again. >> reporter: but some anti-sex trafficking groups have spoken out against backpage's shutdown. saying it was a critical
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investigative tool for vice detectives to locate and recover missing children. they the invasive burden smm inquiry into backpage.com's editorial practices, creates an intense chilling effect for any website operator seeking to define their own moderation procedures for the third-party content they host. the debate will rage on, but the harm done by sex trafficking is undeniable ap. >> my dad gave us a lot of the sex talks when we were younger. he said, choose carefully who you give yourself to. he would say, you're giving a little piece of your soul to every person that you sleep with. so choose the people carefully. and, you know, make sure that you're doing it -- sorry. -- for the, like, right reasons.
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>> it tore our family apart. >> reporter: tom remembers spending nights driving around. >> the dreams of her going to college. >> reporter: searching desperately for his missing daughter. >> day after day, yeah. running through my mind, what i was going to do, how i was going to handle it when i found her. >> reporter: but once natalie returned home, it was more difficult than the family expected. >> i didn't know how to treat her. i didn't know if she wanted me to hugg her. it was awkward. for the first time since the day she was born. and i was the first one to hold her and see her. i cut her umbilical cord. it felt awkward to hold my own kid. >> you know, if we're having to pick up the pieces in the wake of what backpage is doing, i mean, there's a huge cost. >> reporter: natalie and her family are suing backpage, her case, the first to focus on the claim that the site was editing
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ads. their lawyers hope this senate report could be the key to winning their case. >> i can only tell you that when we finally got natalie back for good, months later, the young girl we found wasn't the same natalie that had left our home months earlier. >> in my mind, it's simple. what happened to my daughter on backpage.com is criminal. >> reporter: in the crowd, a long-time supporter, yoda from the national center for missing and exploited children. >> i think today is a game-changer. i think it lays bare their level of knowledge about what they were dealing with, and how they chose to deal with criminal acts, the selling of children for sex. >> reporter: but she said she knows backpage's self-imposed shutdown won't solve this problem. >> who knows if they'll be back up tomorrow? >> reporter: just as quickly as it was shuttered, we found similar ads, on other parts of the site. and the u.s. is just the tip of the iceberg. backpage is truly a global
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empire. according to the senate report, it operates in 97 countries and 943 locations worldwide. as far as what the future holds, the senate subcommittee is considering referring this case to the department of justice. the california a.g. has filed a new criminal case against badge page citing new evidence. backpage says it will fight these charges. >> to be clear, this is a crime. it is a crime that is rightly punishable by incarceration in prison. >> reporter: nichol, tom, and natalie back home are waiting for their day in civil court. >> what was it like to tell your story face to face to this committee that's been investigating this guy? >> relief. >> this is a family fight. and you guys aren't going to quit anytime soon? >> no, never. not until they're dead or go to jail. >> this is not a fight, tom, nicole and natalie chose, but it's one they say they're
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determined to win, for other little girls and their dreams. >> there's nothing really i'm not looking forward to. >> reporter: for "nightline," i'm gloria riviera in washington, d.c. we'll be right back. when you're close to the people you love, does psoriasis ever get in the way of a touching moment? if you have moderate to severe psoriasis, you can embrace the chance of completely clear skin with taltz. taltz is proven to give you a chance at completely clear skin. with taltz, up to 90% of patients
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♪ and we want to thank gloria riviera for her report tonight. log on to abc news.com for much more about the battle against under-age sex trafficking. thank you for watching abc news tonight. as always, we're online at our "nightline" facebook page and abc news.com. goodnight, america. >> to win on this show, you need three things: brains, guts, and an industrial-strength antiperspirant. ready? let's play "who wants to be a millionaire." [dramatic music] ♪ hey, everybody. welcome to the show. you guys ready to play "millionaire" today? [cheers and applause] all right, here we go. our first contestant was enjoying retirement, and then went back to work after being hit hard by the recession.
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hoping to win big and retire again, from las vegas, nevada, please welcome gary csontos. [cheers and applause] how you doing, gary? welcome. good to see you, buddy. >> thank you. great to be here. >> so you retired. >> i did. >> and then didn't. and then now you gotta retire again. >> yeah, it's a sad story. i thought in 2006 i had retired. i went to the philippines to try and get some businesses off the ground. unfortunately, the recession hit, took all my money away, and i realized in 2009, i was gonna have to come back to the working world. so here i am. >> so i think a lot of people can empathize with that story. so this would be a great american story if you went on to win $1 million. >> let's make it that way. absolutely! >> and then we'll retire. all right, let me tell you what you're up against. 14 questions. the money value's growing from $500 all way to that $1 million prize. [cheers and applause] every question you answer

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