Via America’s Lawyer: RT Correspondent Brigida Santos joins Mike Papantonio to outline how Congress is now stepping into the world of online dating, as free versions of online dating apps have attracted sexual predators who target minors on these popular platforms. Also, Mike Papantonio is joined by human trafficking attorney Steve Babin to explain how the recent denial by federal judges to consolidate sex trafficking claims will impact lawsuits moving forward. What are the next steps for bringing hospitality chains to justice, who have been directly profiting off prostitution rings, 92% of which take place in hotel rooms?
*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.
Mike Papantonio: Congress has announced an investigation into the safety of dating apps for reportedly allowing registered sex offenders and minors to use free digital dating services. The investigation comes in response to media reports about sexual predators using dating apps to lure and attack minors. RTs Brigida Santos joins me now with another one of her stories. She’s always at the edge of a story like this, so give me the edge on this one, Brigida. The, you know, I saw, we saw stories like this about six months ago and then they disappeared. Now this story is back in, in play because people, people are now saying, let’s investigate. What’s your take on this story?
Brigida Santos: Yeah. Yeah, and at least there is an investigation right now. The chairman of the subcommittee on economic and consumer policy has launched an investigation into the use of free online dating services by minors and the presence of sexual predators on those same dating sites. The inquiry comes in response to those reports that you were talking about, that many popular dating apps are allowing registered sex offenders to use them while the paid versions of those same apps screen out those registered sex offenders.
The committee has asked several dating services to produce documents about their policies and procedures for determining and verifying the age of their users, whether registered sex offenders or people convicted of violent crimes can use their platforms, how they determine whether someone is a minor or a sex offender, and to submit all consumer complaints related to minors, statutory rape, sexual assault, or rape. Some dating services that have been asked to deliver those documents include the Meet Group, Grindr and Bumble as well as the Match Group, which owns most major online dating services, including Tinder, OkCupid, Hinge, and Plenty of Fish.
Mike Papantonio: You know, Brigida, I remember doing this story, maybe God, it seems like a year ago, and what we were hearing is, well, you know, you’re giving us anecdotal information. These are just hypothetical stories. These aren’t real life stories. You’re, you’re, you’re embellishing what might happen. The stories that Congress is hearing right now, these are real cases. I mean, and these are really, really bad cases aren’t they? Talk about that.
Brigida Santos: Yeah, they’re not hypothetical anymore. There are many disturbing stories. You know, teenagers are accessing free dating apps by simply lying about their ages. Sites like Tinder claim that they block underage users but they really don’t. And to give you an example of a real life case, a Missouri man recently pled guilty to third degree child molestation after he was charged with sodomy, statutory rape and kidnapping an 11 year old girl on a dating app. Because these sites are often international, these apps, similar incidents are also being reported all around the world. For example, the UK has discovered dozens of instances of pedophiles using dating apps to abuse and prey on children. Some of them as young as eight years old.
This brings me to the next big issue, these dating services don’t conduct background checks on users. While the companies absolutely hold some responsibility, parents need to be aware that giving their kid a smartphone will give them access to these apps and they need to take measures to make sure that their kids know about the dangers of them and that their kids don’t get access to them. Several companies have also been accused of selling and sharing users’ personal data. So they’re looking into that as well.
Mike Papantonio: Brigida, my next guest up after you actually is going to talk about the relationship between these dating apps and child trafficking, human trafficking and they’re, it’s inescapable. These apps are also be, being used as the go between for what they call the room, the Romeo take. That’s where, you know, you start off, somebody believes that they’re falling in love with somebody, meet me someplace, and then these things are used for human trafficking in a big way. So the next story we’re going to do is actually going to talk about it, but the investigation is going to be looking into how these companies collect and share user’s personal data. Which is incredible that they’re sharing it wherever they want and they’re taking advantage of it any way they want. What can you tell me about that?
Brigida Santos: Well, the committee on oversight and reform says that American consumers may not receive adequate notification of the commercial use of their sensitive personal information from these dating apps, including sexual orientation, gender identity, drug and alcohol use, employment, political views and so on. It is asked that the company submit all documentation on their data collection practices and any information about the third parties that they’re sharing that personal data with and that’s all well and good, but I’d like to see Congress also do the same for other internet companies that are also collecting data.
Mike Papantonio: Last, last question, Brigida. Is there any question in your mind that these apps know exactly what they’re doing? That they understand exactly how this is being abused both as to this and to human trafficking. What’s your take?
Brigida Santos: Yeah. There is no question to it. They absolutely know, especially because of all the news stories that have come out revealing it. So if they are saying that they didn’t know before, they certainly know now and it doesn’t seem like they’re taking any measures at this point to really crack down and try to stop this abuse that’s going on.
Mike Papantonio: Brigida Santos, keep busting them up on this, this is an important story. Thank you for joining me. Okay.
Brigida Santos: Anytime, Mike.
Mike Papantonio: A panel of federal judges ruled against an effort to consolidate and centralize hotel sex trafficking lawsuits. The petition aimed to hold these hotels accountable for profiting off the backs of women and children by hosting sex trafficking and prostitution on their property. I’m joined now by attorney Steve Babin, who specializes in human trafficking law. Steve, I think this was a surprise to everybody. I don’t think it’s, I don’t think this court’s over with this. I think they’re going to look at it again, hopefully. But this first decision, it, it does cause some problems for, for trying to solve this trafficking problem doesn’t it?
Steve Babin: I think it causes some problems, but we have a path forward. I think that what happened was the panel failed to recognize the breadth and scope of the issue was one problem and also that there is a, what the common question of fact was with respect to all of these cases.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah. Well, a lot of times a panel of judges is, they’re, they’re posed a question that they don’t, they’re not in the middle of the fight. So I think your next step, this is not over, this is just the beginning, isn’t it? What is your next step? What do you want to do next to keep this trafficking case moving? Because it is heavily, heavily a hotel issue. It’s a trucking company issue. It’s all the, it’s an airlines issue. Interesting to me, the airlines are doing something about it. The airlines, if you walk through Atlanta airport, you hear time and time again, the idea of about, if you suspect trafficking is taking place, call 911 right this minute, right?
Steve Babin: Yeah. And it’s, it’s really a hotel industry too, 92% of trafficking occurs in hotels. So the, the path forward is we’re gonna, we’re gonna continue to file lawsuits. We’re going to file class action lawsuits against the hotel industry and we’re going to bring the industry to the table, whatever, whatever way we have to. We will approach the panel again and see consolidation, but we’ll have a, you know, a, a multi-level attack against the hotel industry.
Mike Papantonio: Well, the advantage, the advantage of consolidation is you have one judge that’s looking at all the facts for the entire nation. It’s called an MDL. That’s how, as a matter of fact, how we’re trying to solve the opioid crisis. That’s how we, we solve hundreds of major complex cases where you have one talented judge making decisions about the evidence, about what’s admissible, about what the companies did. And that’s what you were asking for here, right? You’re asking to say, can you please put this in front of one judge? And that was up in Ohio correct?
Steve Babin: That was up in Ohio where I am and yeah, that’s exactly right. You can have one judge see the entire problem and hear what the problem is, is it’s the same across the board. It’s the deliberate repeated refusal to implement policies and procedures that would catch and, and prohibit sex trafficking from occurring on the premises. And the brands say, well, you know, we couldn’t recognize or control sex trafficking and I think that argument is untenable. The, the reality is if, if somebody walked in, a man walked in who’s in his, whatever age the guy is, with six girls in their 20s and paid with cash in hotel rooms for week long stays, you gotta know something’s going on.
Mike Papantonio: Okay. You’ve asked us to be involved in the trial of these cases. We will be trying these cases. I think that what’s going to happen here, and this is unfortunate, but the companies who know they’ve done wrong are going to be hiding behind the companies who kind of tried to do this right. Some companies, hotel companies, airline companies, trucking companies, they’ve come up with standards and they say these are the standards we’re going to follow because we know in the hotel industry, 97% not, tell me if I’m wrong about it. It’s nine, 97% of all human trafficking, primarily of children, takes place in hotel rooms. In Atlanta for example, they bring kids into Atlanta central location. People fly in from all over the world to actually be involved with sex trafficking. They all meet there in Atlanta. They’re there for two days and then they leave. The airlines industry knows that the hotel industry knows that and you’re asking the hotel industry to step up and do their job, right?
Steve Babin: That’s right. To step up and do their job and not only write down policies, but to implement those policies as well across the board.
Mike Papantonio: What will a class action allow you to do? To me, if I think of your class action that you’re filing, it allows, it allows lawyers to do discovery, to take depositions, to go after documents that show that the hotel industry clearly knew what was going on. Even though this panel decided now’s not the time, when we get those documents and we can show them more, don’t you, don’t you kind of feel like everything falls into place?
Steve Babin: Everything should fall into place. And what the class action does is exactly what you said. It lets us ask questions and determine, you know, how much did you know and did you know? And what we will find is they absolutely did know.
Mike Papantonio: Steve Babin, I promise you I’ll go after him with you. Okay.
Steve Babin: All right.
Mike Papantonio: Thanks for doing this.