. tonight on "nightline," underage and exploited. young american girls being bought and sold, not on the streets, but online. websites are making millions. tonight "nightline" investigates back page.com and the big business of selling girls. and feline fishers. they're very cute and critically endangered. furry cats that swim like otters. tonight we journey on the other side of the world and find the surprising reasons why they're very expensive.
plus gaga. it top the charts and then was everywhere from green on american idol, to a youtube cover with 95 million hits. what made this song go so incredibly viral? ♪ >> good evening. i'm cynthia mcfadden. tonight an investigation that blows the lid of simi worlds where girls are bought and sold for sex online. police all over the country tell us the sale of sex has dramatically increased with the advent of internet classified ads. two years ago craigslist shut down its sex ads, but much of their business went to another website, back page.com.
would shutting down back page help stop the trafficking of underage girls? or are they, as they claim, actually part of the solution? "nightline" investigates. >> the battle that's been waged on street corners since there were street corners. sex for sale. as-i battle that's been waged on street corners since there were street corners. sex for sale. cops say the red light district is old-school. the new market place for sex. >> you can buy it on back page. you want to go buy a teenage girl, about 13, you go to back page in the don't section. >> we'll call her jessica. takes courage to do what she's doing, come out of the shadows and talk about a very dirty business. >> she obviously has a pimp. look at the ads she has.
at 17, she was sold by her pimp on back page.com. >> you can clearly see she's in high school. >> a classified site, where you can buy a toaster or or a girl. >> every pimp has rules that each girl must follow. >>r. >> reporter: for those who think there was a victimless crime, listen. >> there was a time when i didn't obey the rules. my pimp grabbed my by mee my throat, held me against the wall, took the potato peeler, carved it into my face and then ate the skin. >> reporter: that man is now in jail thanks in part to her testimony against him. her mission now is to make sure it doesn't happen to other girls. >> i was looking at your ad off pack back page. >> reporter: buying a girl online is just about as easy as ordering a pizza.
we spent a day with a human-trafficking unit in california where they routinely prowl the sites to find underage girls. >> are you available today? >> reporter: right on time. there she is, just 16 years old. sadly just one of many. >> come on! >> reporter: all these girls were once sold for sex, too. their playground has all the markings of childhood, but none of the innocence. >> a girl in chalk, that we have to draw, it's just a reminder of how young you are. >> we met megan at street light usa, one of the few places in the country where girls like her can try to finish growing up. her pimp is not behind bars, so we've agreed to change her voice and not show her face. >> my first night, he took me to a hotel. >> megan went with him, she says, because she promised to be
her boyfriend. >> he's like, we're going to take some pictures of you. >> provocative pictures? >> yes. what did he do with them? >> he posted them online. they put the pictures that i put on there and people started calling. >> reporter: then, did you start posting them yourself? >> yes. i learned how to write the captions, i learned how to take the pictures. i learned how to pay for the ad. it was simple. >> reporter: so as a 17-year-old girl, with a month's experience, it was easy as pie to post on back page? >> yes. >> and how many tricks would you have a night? >> up to like 20, once a posted my ad, the phone doesn't stop ringing. i was exhausted. i didn't want to do it anymore. >> reporter: so you were bringing in a lot of money? >> yes, i was.
>> 3 to $4,000 some nights? >> yes. >> how much of that were you keeping? >> some of it. >> we are hear to demand an end to sex trafficking and we're not going away! >> back page has taken a public bruising from a wide range of critics. 48 state attorneys have signed a letter urging back page to shut down all their so-called adult classifieds. >> they profit from men who sell women and girls and allow them to be raped for money. >> washington state's attorney general says what they're doing is immoral. >> this is not acceptable behavior for an american company. >> reporter: to defend itself, back page invited our camera inside its headquarters. >> this is the first time we've allowed anybody in here. >> their new lawyer took us into a room where she says back page employees are examining every ad, trying to catch underage trafficking. tough, because while you're
supposed to be 18 to post an ad, no id is required. >> how good do you feel the company is in finding people who are underage and being trafficked on back page? >> i think the company currently is better than anyone else out there. we're doing more than anyone else. can we do more? >> yes, we can do more. >> waun way they could do more, the site requires a credit card number to place an ad, so police can find the bad guise. girls told us pimps get around that by using gift cards bought with cash which are untraceable. >> this notion of gift cards being able to be used, that's something that i'm willing to explore more now. >> reporter: they do screen out about 400 suspicious ads a month and forwards them to the national center for missing and exploited children. the company argues that while they might be part of the problem, they can also be part of the solution. police departments around the country told us they do use the
site to track down victims. >> is the system perfect? it's not perfect. that's why i'm here, to make improvements. but can a company that reportedly makes tens of millions of dollars from sex ads, really be trusted to patrol itself? >> i'm curious about how much money you make? >> this is not about money, it's about fighting human trafficking online. >> a purported $22 million last year, correct? >> we are here to fight human trafficking online, and that is the reason back page has invested more than 80% of its people in doing that. that is the reason that we cooperate with law enforcement to the degree that we do. >> right now, how much money does this company make posting these personal ads? and my answer is it's not about money. it's about providing a tool to save children online. >> so $22.8 million last year, accurate or inaccurate?
>> this discussion is about stopping human trafficking online and the best ways to do that. >> why won't you answer the question? >> because it's irrelevant. >> it's not irrelevant. >> it's shutting down the adult category on one website was the answer to stop child exploitation, i would be all over that and i would be saying, that's the answer. that's not the answer. >> she says the business will be driven offshore where it's harder to regular. so you know more than 48 attorney generals? >> on this subject, i do. >> what if you're wrong? what if you are now working for a company that is, in fact, helping exploit these most vulnerable kids? >> i grappled with that, and i stayed up nights with that before i took this job. there's no doubt in my mind that this game of whacka mole and villainizing one service provider after another, is not
the right strategy. >> if you could save one child, that one child could have been me, that was saved. >> jessica has a new life now. >> you can clearly see she's not even fully developed. >> a group crusading to get back page shut down. next up for here, law school. >> if i go to law school, there will be a way for me to help victims who don't have a voice of their own. i can be their voice. >> indeed she can. a group of senators now aurgeing advertisers to pull out of back page.com. tomorrow two centers will trous a resolution calling for the sex classifieds to be shut down. up next, they're not your average kitties. they have webbed feet and love to fish. and may soon be going from rare to extinct. f chicago.
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they're fuzzy, nocturnal and growing more endangered every day. they're called fishing cats. they live in southeast asia, and it may surprise you to discover that the choices we all make could be affecting whether they survive. here's abc's dan harris. >> reporter: if you don a cat, you know they avoid water like the plague. but look at these little guys, diving right in. they are literally built for hunting in the water, with partially webbed feet and a head designed for diving. they're called fishing cats. there are very few of them left. they only live in southeast asia and as it turns out, their
entire future, could according to conservationists depend on the decisions you make in your local supermarket. to find out why that is, we went to the other side of the world. to remote, rural thailand. our guide, this young scientist named nam fong cutter, who has researched these fiercely private animals for eight years and has only once seen one of them in the wild. >> reporter: that's good enough for you? >> yeah. in a way, that makes it even more exciting because you want to give them some respect. >> reporter: as a matter of fact, the only way we could take pictures of fishing cats for this story was in a zoo or in this wildlife rescue center where these cats hissed at us. >> that is a classically unhappy look. >> reporter: and each other. to show us the one way she can
reliably see fishing cats, she took us out to their natural habitat, which, to say the least, can be risky. >> there are a lot of snakes. cobras. >> a lot of cobras here? >> yes. >> perfect. >> reporter: when they find a trap, they put chicken in it. >> yes. >> that's cheating. >> it is. >> when night falls, bingo. a fishing cat in the wild, an incredibly rare sight. critics say what we're doing here is putting these kalts in danger. it has to do with what we buy in the frozen section of our supermarket. >> roughly 20 years ago, this was pristine wed land, now it's overrun by the shrimp farms, and they make that noise night and day. shrimp farmers dig these big
holes and grow hundreds of thousands of shrimp, which are then sorted, put on ice, and sent out. >> reporter: where will most of this shrimp go? >> a lot of this will go to the market in the u.s. >> this shrimp that we're seeing in thailand will end up in the supermarket in iowa? >> yes. >> reporter: iowa, california, new york, all over america. by one estimate, the average american eats upwards of a pound of thai shrimp a year. if you see the from thailand label, lovers of the fishing cats say there's something you should do. >> maybe put it back? >> yes, that will help. >> put it back because these farms of threatening the cats in two ways. with their habitat being gobbled up by the shrimp farms, the cats are sometimes driven to kill chickens belonging to local villagers. the villagers turn around and kill the cats. sometimes animals that she has
been tracking for months, simply vanish. >> what's it like for you when you lose a cat? >> it's very, very sad. because i'm attached to them. when you lose one, it's very sad. >> reporter: sad and all too common. and the solution, she says, may rest right here in america. for "nightline," this is dan harris, in thailand. [ kyle ] my bad. [ roger ] tell me you have good insurance. yup, i've got... [ dennis ] ...allstate. really? i was afraid you'd have some cut-rate policy. [ kyle ] nope, i've got...
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