TRIGGER WARNING: Article contains mentions of rape and child pornography.
“I’ve been on FBI raids where I’ve seen things that no person should ever see,” Ashton Kutcher said, voice choking up in his 15-minute opening testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was there for a hearing on progress in Ending Modern Slavery, which took place on Wednesday morning.
Most know Kutcher for his roles in That 70’s Show, The Ranch, and as the former host of Punk’d. But the actor has been making a more important mark recently with his organization Thorn, which he founded in 2009 with his then-wife Demi Moore.
The organization, which describe themselves as “digital defenders of children”, are responsible for building software that helps fight human trafficking by identifying victims of the acts and their perpetrators. At the Washington hearing, Kutcher spoke on behalf of his organization, urging government support for the development of more technology that will help in the fight against online child sex trafficking. He was emotional on several occasions as he spoke of the horrors he’d encountered from his work with the foundation.
“I’ve seen video content of a child that’s the same age as mine being raped by an American man that was a sex tourist in Cambodia. And this child was so conditioned by her environment that she thought she was engaging in play.”
He spoke of another horrific instance where his team had received a phone call from the Department of Homeland Security, asking them for help. They explained to Kutcher that a 7-year-old girl was being sexually abused and the content was being spread online. The perpetrator still hadn’t been caught and the department had been watching her for three years.
When not in a position to help, Kutcher had to explain to Homeland Security that he couldn’t assist. He spoke of the remorse and guilt her felt for being unable to offer assistance in the rescue of the seven-year-old, due to lack of funding and support. “For the next three months I had to go to sleep every night and think about that little girl that was being abused and the fact that if I built the right thing, we could have saved her. Now, if I got that phone call, the answer would be yes.”
Thorn has already been making a significant difference in the fight against sex slavery. During the hearing, Kutcher spoke of a tool they used called “Spotlight” that helped with identification. “It’s working. In six months, with 25% of our users reporting, we’ve identified over 6,000 trafficking victims, 2,000 of which are minors. This tool has enhanced 4,000 law enforcement officials in 900 agencies. And we’re reducing the investigation time by 60%.”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 15, 2017
He gave several ideas to the group of Senators when speaking of the impact Thorn could have on taking down the illegal industry. A large amount of sex trafficking happens online, with Huffington Post reporting in 2014 that 70% of children being sold for sex can be purchased on the web. “Technology can be used to enable slavery, but technology can also be used to disable slavery,” Kutcher said.
According to the US Department of Justice, up to 300,00o children in the United States alone are at risk for being trafficked for commercial sex.
To help support the Thorn foundation, you can donate here.