Ashton Kutcher impressed the world yesterday with his passionate testimony at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on human trafficking. Although he’s most famous for his acting career, Kutcher is also the co-founder and chairman of Thorn, a foundation that fights the sexual exploitation of children worldwide.
A topic as grave as sexual slavery requires cold, hard facts. Fighting back tears, Kutcher described some of the horrors he’s seen. In doing so, he does not mince words. He describes watching footage of a 2-year-old being raped by an American sex tourist in Cambodia. He talks about the 3-year long search for a 7-year old girl whose abuse was shared all over the dark web.
And it’s stories like these that make the work of his foundation so important. Since its inception in 2009, Thorn has identified 6,000 victims of sexual trafficking using modern software like the program Spotlight. In order to protect its integrity and effectiveness, Kutcher declined to go into too much detail regarding how the software works, but he did cite an example of its effectiveness at the meeting. He testified that Spotlight aided in the location and rescue of a 15-year-old girl from Oakland who had been abused and sold into sexual slavery. With Spotlight’s help, she was safely returned to her family within three days. This software, Kutcher explained, reduces investigation times by 60%.
It’s important to understand that human trafficking is able to thrive because of the Internet. According to Thorn, “63% of child sex trafficking victims were advertised online.” Therefore, Kutcher believes the best, most efficient way to fight trafficking and slavery is through technology. He says, “I see technology as a tool. A tool without will. The will is the user of that technology.” He believes that just as computer software is used to further trafficking, it can also be used to stop trafficking. And he testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that his foundation’s tools are as smart as the tools of the traffickers and get more efficient and smarter over time.
Other tools Thorn has created include the BEFREE text code that victims can use to signal they need help; PROJECT VIC, a collaborative effort between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children that identifies new victims more quickly and efficiently; and DETERRENCE, a program designed to deter potential abusers from seeking victims, make them accountable, and encourage them to seek help rather than harm others.
Kutcher’s testimony in front of the U.S. Senate included his belief that “happiness is not given — it must be earned.” But he also says we, as Americans, all have the right to pursue happiness and that we owe it to each other to bestow that right upon others.
“But the right to pursue happiness,” says Kutcher, “For so many, is stripped away. It’s raped. It’s abused. It’s taken by force, fraud, or coercion. It is sold for the momentary happiness of another.”
When you think of Ashton Kutcher, you might think of his foolish antics on That 70s Show or the pranks he played on Punk’d. You might think of his Hollywood marriages to Demi Moore and Mila Kunis. He’s faced criticisms from Internet trolls that he has no business in politics and should “stick to his day job.” But he has proven himself to be more than the characters he plays on TV. He is a father, he is an advocate, and he could be the reason your child is saved one day from a terrible fate.
“I’d like to talk about my day job,” says Kutcher. “My day job is as the chairman and cofounder of Thorn. We build software to fight human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. And that’s our core mission. My other day job is that of the father of two —a 2-month-old and a 2-year-old. And as part of that job that I take very seriously, I believe is my effort to ensure their right to pursue happiness and to ensure a society and government that defends it as well.”
Thank you to Ashton Kutcher and to his team at Thorn for your efforts to save children from sexual slavery. As a mother myself, I applaud your commitment to your “day job.”
h/t: Huffington Post