tv Ali Velshi on Target Al Jazeera April 7, 2016 9:00pm-9:31pm EDT
it's all about that. [ music ] >> we wish you many, many more years. it's great to see you, betty. thank you so much. >> thank you. thank you. that's our program. thank you for watching. i'm john seigenthaler. ali is next. on target tonight, child sex trafficking. it's a huge problem that many people think only happens somewhere else, but they're wrong. it's happening right here in the united states where child prostitution thrives online. all week long al jazeera america is showcasing a selection of
your stories. they include some of the most important issues we've covered on this channel for you. one of the most difficult stories that i've cover odd this program is that of young natalie. it's not her real name. she's a former teenage run-away pulled into the underworld of child sex trafficking. she was sold online for sex by his pimp who placed advertise ams of natalie in the escort section of the ad website backpage.com. she was ultimately rescued from her ordeal and reunited with her family, but since then they waged a legal battle against backpage arguing that it enabled her pimp to traffic children like her into the sex trade. backpage denies the charges and says it's not liable for ads that third-parties post on its website, ads that it says are protected by free speech guarantees. later i'll challenge back page's legal counsel on the points.
first, mary snow has natalie's story. >> we did everything with our kids. that was for philosophy on being parents. keep your kids busy, and they'll stay out of travel. >> tom was a stay at home dad. his wife nicole was a preschoolteacher. they lived a typical american life when the youngest of three children entered high school. >> she was part of the national junior honor society and a first chair violin and volunteered at the school. she was on the soccer team. she was an all-american child. >> but then the all-american child did something unexpected. nicole and tom's 15-year-old daughter disappeared without a trace just leaving behind a note. >> they were really big on big grades. i thought they'd be disappointed in me because i was kind of messing up in school. so i told them that i was going to go and experience seattle.
i don't know. i was excited. go hang out. but i didn't really know what i had coming. i didn't really think all that through. >> how quickly did your life change? >> pretty darn quick. pretty quick. >> what happened next is the reason why we will refer to her as natalie and we will only see pictures of her not in shadow when she's younger. >> i was raped and had to worry about if i was going to get killed or beaten or raped again. >> she escaped out of a basement
window. i received a call that said we have your daughter. come pick her up. it broke my heart. it -- everything innocent about my daughter was gone. everything that you hope that your child will find had been taken from her. not by somebody who loved her. not by somebody who cared. by somebody who just wanted self-gratification, and it was devastating. >> we thought tending to her immediate physical needs like at school, important things which we thought were important was that she continue with school. that she, you know, continue
with her band and continue with the soccer. >> we prayed. we thought love would fix it. >> how long did that last? >> that lasted about three month months, at which point she was lured back out of the house. >> natalie was still in contact with the older girl she had met at the shelter in seattle with the promise of a better life in california. natalie never made it there. instead, she was introduced to a 32-year-old man in seattle who would become her pimp. how did he win your trust? >> i was fooled and alone, homeless. i guess i was willing to trust him. i don't know why. i don't know how. i was 15. i was not thinking. i just thought that he was going to help me.
>> they read the bible and talked about building a church together. he offered her what she saw as stability and love. meanwhile, her family was frantic. >> we posted flyers. we gave them to hotels. we -- everywhere and anywhere you can think of. you're stuck. you're stuck in one moment in your world. you're praying for that moment to end. >> natalie wasn't on a street corner. instead, she was being trafficked as a weekend special on the escort page of the second largest classified ad listing service on the internet, backpage.com. >> he would take pictures of me, put like fake names and stuff. then he would take a prepaid card or something, and he would just go on to backpage and click and post an ad and just post me as an ad.
>> and how many ads would he post? >> daily maybe ten, 15. my phone would probably ring for anywhere from an hour to two hours straight. >> what was the reason he gave you for using backpage? >> he said it was better than being on the street. he said it was safer. >> natalie realized the man she thought was her savior was her captor. >> he sold me. every day and every night for hundreds mief plus days he sold me. we did it on backpage.com. >> i heard from her 47 days after she was gone. >> what did she tell you? >> she called me from a pay phone. it was my birthday.
she toll -- told me that she loved me and that she couldn't come home because she was a bad daughter. we wouldn't want her. and she hung up. i was scared. especially after he started to beat me. i was scared that he would kill me. i met one girl one day, and then the next week she was dead. so i just -- i didn't know what was possible at that point. i thought i was stuck for the rest of my life. i told my mom that on the phone. that i couldn't leave. that i loved her.
i was sorry. >> you had no idea where she was? >> no idea where she was. >> 61 long days after that phone call at 2:00 in the morning, nicole and tom got a call that natalie was alive. she had been arrested as part of a sting operation. >> i was really confused. and ashamed of myself. i didn't know what my parents would think of me. >> you haven't seen your child. i wanted to go in and just hug her and make sure she was fine. that's not what i got, boy. that's not who i found. >> who did you find? >> a stranger. she was angry at her dad and i. she was in love with this individual that had sold her. i couldn't understand it, because she was such a lovely, happy, go-lucky individual.
now i was looking at this person who was just angry at everybody except the one person who i thought she should be angry at. >> when we return, the fight to get natalie back and make sure what happened to her never happens to anyone again. >> you and i, we're going to change this country, and we will change the world. >> mr. president, there's a one in three chance of a second grade depression. >> first hand accounts from the people who are there. >> your opinion was shocking. >> ...that i am president of the united states and i can't make anything happen. >> he stood up and said, "that's it, i'm finished."
>> this is the kind of moment nicole never knew if she'd experience with her daughter after natalie was sex trafficked at age 15. >> in less than 36 hours she was being sold. it doesn't take a long time. >> gone for 108 days, raped and beaten and trafficked by a 32-year-old man she thought she loved. >> it was maddening. i didn't understand the amount of times she was sold. i think that was awful to hear 15, 20 times a day. i just couldn't imagine that. >> it was during one of those encounters that natalie was found. her trafficker had posted an ad of her on backpage.com, the second largest classified website. the police had answered that ad during one of their frequent
stings involving the site. >> i discovered that you could order a child online like you could order a pizza from domino's, and she was sold there as a weekend special. >> nicole found out that natalie was one of thousands of underage kids believed to be sold for sex every year with just a few clicks of the mouse. without protections, traffickers can easily post ads with children. >> the guy who trafficked me, i would sit next to him when he would do it. it was after you're done setting up what the page is going to look like, all you do is click post. then a little notification comes up asking, are you over the age of 18? >> nobody asked you for any proof that you weren't 18? >> no, no date of birth or nothing. he sold me.
he sold me every day and every night for hundred-plus days. >> nicole and tom knew this time natalie would need more than a parent's love to recover. >> i was really angry, you know. i had my daughter for making an impulsive decision that cost her really big and cost us big, too. >> over time the family began to heal. the man convicted of trafficking her was sentenced to the maximum 26 years in prison. she got her ged and started to take college classes, but there was part of natalie missing. >> there's no way i can get my childhood back. there's no way i can make up for lost time because of that website. it made things for me a million times worse. a million times worse.
i can guarantee if i hadn't been part of that website i would have been found way before that. >> the family decided to take a stand against backpage.com. >> it's something you think that only happens in like third world countries or something. nope, it's right here in the united states. and it needs to be taken way more seriously. >> so they joined a lawsuit filed by attorney eric bouwer who represents two other minors he says were trafficked on the same site. >> our case is simply about how backpage actually assists pimps to sell victims, including children, on their website. >> at the heart of legal battle is a nearly 20-year-old law written when the internet was just coming of age called the communications decency act, section 230. it was written to protect information and innovation on the internet, and it does that by granting immunity to websites from third-party context.
>> we focused on why they are responsible for the creation and development of at least some of that content. >> backpage is arguing in this case, as it has in the past, it's not responsible for content others put on the site, and it says it's working with law enforcement to crack down on child sex trafficking postings. >> if a website itself creates content, the website can be liable for the content it creates. that is not the issue in our case because plaintiffs admitted that the ads that were written here were authored, created, posted by the pimps who actually victimized them. >> my baby had been held captive. she'd been raped and she'd been sold. >> while the legal battle plays out in court, nicole has taken refuge in advocacy work. >> we made it our mission in life to tell other people that this happens here in the united states. and that it's our goal to end
it. to end the sale of kids. >> natalie has a family of her own with a fiance and a young daughter. >> my parents always told me when i was younger that you can look out your front window, and you're safe inside. the second you go outside it's a big world out there. it will eat you up and spit you out. i never believed that until i experienced all this. >> the family left washington state. for them, it holding bad memories around every corner. they now are working on rebuilding their lives elsewhere. >> my daughter left when she was 15 has not come back. the daughter i have now is recovering. she's a very strong individual. she takes it one day at a time,
but this changes everybody. >> where does your mind take you when you think of what could have been? >> all kinds of places. all kinds of places. i had knocked it out of the park with those kids. i don't know. i think about that a lot. i did. they were just doing so well, and but, you know, it's -- we're okay. >> up next, the general counsel for backpage.com responds to natalie's story.
gangs in the street alone. >> we're pushing the envelope with out science every day, we can save species. >> i'm walking you guys! >> all i wanted to see was her walk. it was amazing. >> these were emotions that i had been dreaming about for so long. >> getting to the heart of the matter. proud to tell your stories. al jazeera america. you just heard natalie's story, a 15-year-old girl trafficked for sex on the escort section of backpage.com. now we hear from the website itself. liz mcdougall is general counsel for backpage.com. you heard that young woman say that if not for that web page she'd have been found sooner. she said her pimp told her backpage was safer than being on the street, and there was a lot of money to be made. do you worry when you see something like that that backpage is paving a road for
these pimps? >> no. my heart goes out to natalie and her family. i understand how she feels because of her experience. the reality is not that one website is responsible or could be responsible for what happened to her or for the perpetuation of prostitution, sex trafficking, our child sex trafficking. we have sex work in our society, legal and illegal, and that's not going away anytime soon. >> you told us you generate 300 to 400 ads a month you send over to the groups that police these taish that try and find missing children. you've got something that tells you you know that 300 to 400 times a month you're seeing things that you believe are trafficking, child trafficking. >> we make 300 to 400 reports per month for ads. not our ads, but ads
third-parties have placed that we identify as potentially involving minors. that's not something we're obligated to do but something you do voluntarily. >> you or someone in the organization believes these these are potentially children? >> we believe they're potentially a minor at risk. we are to my knowledge the only website that has such a robust program for trying to identify victims and particularly children. >> in one of these belieriefs ie national missing and exploited children, the ads you're suspected, they're supporting the lawsuit in washington state. they said they've had mixed luck with you. let's listen to the executive director of case analysis division at the nastiona nationg and exploiting children. >> they are activing reporting. in order to protect children you would do more than mere reporting. >> we do substantially more than mere reporting, and the national
centers is well aware of some of our methods. some of them they may not be aware of. we do not only the advance moderation, second moderation after the ads go live. and then we do the reporting to nicmic. we have a user report, so if somebody is concerned about an ad that we didn't see, they can report it to us. it gets immediately escalated for immediate review for potential illegal activity, especially a minor. >> a lot of the cases brought against you and you have prevailed in some of them are about this section 230. it was a law that was written in 1996. it's meant to say if you're an internet vehicle, you're not held responsible for the content generated by a third-party. fairgirls is an organization that tries to help trafficked children, and they tried to place an ad in backpage in the escort section. they were rejected from putting it in that section. it was determined that that should go somewhere else into a
community service section. they have now as part of their belief said that sort of speaks to the idea that you guys do have some editorial control over what goes into the ads. you make choices. you have tips and advice about how to place ads in a section called "escorts." >> we don't have tips or advice about how to do that or not do it. we do have the control of any online publisher, which is precisely what 230 protects. >> this is an ad that was meant to say to girls who might have been underage or trafficked, we can help you. we're not law enforcement. here's a phone number. we won't judge you. that wasn't allowed in that section. >> so they say. you know, i would need to look at the context of the ad and go back to the conversations we had with them. >> right. >> i think what you're missing here, again, and what fair girls fails to point out is that if you go to the first page of the escort section, the second
sponsored ad on every one of those pages is an ad for children of the night. it is a hot line and a residential home for child prostitutes. >> let's talk about the motivation here. i read a lot of your stuff, and i know that you think you believe this. you come at it from a place where you do believe in the freedom of speech, and you've made these comments before. there is money in here. there's a group aim that estimates that backpage earned $36 million from adult ads in 2012. some say that's a conservative estimate. how lucrative is this, and is that the reason why it's not easy to goit of the business? >> no, that's not the reason why. it's not easy to get -- >> is that close, 36 million? >> i'm not sure how they estimated the numbers. >> is it low or high? >> i can't answer that. we're a private company. the reason for continuing in this is because it's the right thing to do. >> that sounds weird, it's the right thing to do to allow ads
for child prostitutes? >> your assumption is it will go away. >> it's not the right thing to do. i don't think it will go away, but i don't have a ad for child prostitutes. i get that it exists chls. >> okay. it exists and the perpetrators and pimps use the internet. do you want them to use an internet website that is looking for the illegal content and looking for the kids and trying to help rescue them, or do you want -- and working with law enforcement to get the evidence so that you can gets prosecutions in these very difficult cases? or do you want the content to go on a website that is hosted in russia and the finances are in panama and one, they're not going to do any moderation, and two, law enforcement, can't even get to them to get the evidence. here there's an opportunity. we work with law enforcement. they know they can go to this place. >> you know they're mixed on that, right? some people say it's nice to find ip addresses and trace them. others say, it's an easy way for
pimps to traffic kids. >> it's -- >> you don't have to show you. you don't have to put your birth date in apparently. has that changed? >> you have to put in your age. >> you can make that up? >> you can make that up. >> nobody has to prove anything? >> nobody has to prove anything, but there is no effective age verification technology for websites currently. >> some are arguing that you are making it easier to have it happen. that's the discussion we're having with you. we don't hold you responsible for child trafficking. >> those are the issues we should be focused on. >> you're making money on it. >> we can help in the issues. you get why that's tricky, right? it looks like in the meantime, you're happy to take the money for the ad. >> i don't care what it looks like. i care what the reality is shths and the reality is we are doing more than anyone else. if we shut down, it's going somewhere else, and i don't believe anybody could or would do the job that we're doing.
>> isn't that sort of saying if i'm on the street corner and i deal drugs and i go away, swunlts will deal drugs? >> not in this case. you're saying that what we're saying is that if you're on the corner dealing drugs but you don't deal to kids, you work with the cops, and you're going to be -- what you'll be replaced by is somebody who is going to deal to anybody. you know, there are degrees in that case. i reject the analogy of us to a drug dealer, because we are not doing anything that is illegal. we go out of our way to avoid any content that is illegal. the fact is that somebody is going to host this content. do you want somebody who is trying to be a good guy about it, or do you want somebody who doesn't give a hoot about these kids or about the problem? >> and an attorney representing natalie and two other women suing backpage says the case is set to go to trial in october.
in a separate development on capitol hill, lawmakers in the senate are also investigating backpage.com. i'm ali velshi. thank you for joining us. it will take more than a few rocks to stop me from doin' what i have to do. >> suddenly heroin seems to be everywhere. >> there's no way i am willing to give up my family for a drug ever again. >> i know you all have strong opinions about the border. >> i don't believe in borders. >> our government is allowing an invasion. >> i don't really know as much as i thought i did. >> people don't just need protection, they need assistance. >> what's your message then? >> we need help now. >> oh my god... the town's out of water. >> we came up here to talk to some people who are selling fresh water... fresh water for fracking. >> we are a town that greed destroyed. >> what do we want?
>> justice! >> these people have decided that today they will be arrested. >> i wanted to dance, and eventually i started leaving the gangs in the street alone. >> we're pushing the envelope with out science every day, we can save species. >> i'm walking you guys! >> all i wanted to see was her walk. it was amazing. >> these were emotions that i had been dreaming about for so long. >> getting to the heart of the matter. proud to tell your stories. al jazeera america. >> you're not the person to tell me who i am. be i kept trying to make him not