Ashton Kutcher’s dream is to end modern-day slavery, and to this end, he co-founded Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, an organization against human trafficking. When people are exploited for sex or labor, the State Department defines this as Human Trafficking. The Washington Post reported that the celebrity actor and his ex-wife, Demi Moore, founded the organization in 2009, and use modern day technology to both identify and locate trafficking victims.
— Spasique (@Spasiques) February 17, 2017
Now, the former underwear model-turned-actor has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on modern slavery, proving that Kutcher is a very serious man trying to resolve a very serious problem. Defending his work, the actor said he considers his real calling in life to be his role at Thorn and being a father of two.
“This is the part where Internet trolls start telling me to stick to my day job.”
Defending his work, Kutcher became very upset, and his voice shook while describing his frustration at not being able to assist the Department of Homeland Security who were trying to locate a girl who was raped on a video.
“It devastated me. It haunted me. Because every night, I had to go to sleep every night and think about that little girl who was still being abused, and the fact that if I built the right thing, we could save her. So, that’s what we did. And now, if I got that phone call, the answer would be yes.”
— princess. (@baby_moon9) February 17, 2017
Kutcher told senators at the hearing that, not only can technology be used to enable slavery, it can also be used to disable it. NBC News reported that Kutcher offered several suggestions to the Senators for ending the trade in humans, including steps to protect vulnerable refugees, and new and adaptable technology.
The actor is seeking funding for his organization, and to this end, he pushed the importance of using up-to-date technology to override current technology that facilitates human trafficking. Kutcher pointed out that law enforcement agencies are already using a beta version of Thorn software to cut down investigation time.
Agencies are typically under-resourced and understaffed when it comes to human trafficking, and Kutcher believes that technology can make everyone’s jobs quicker and easier. He pointed out that Spotlight, one of the organization’s programs, shortens investigations from three years to just three weeks!
“The technology we’re building is efficient, nimble [and] enduring, and it only gets smarter with time.”
Ashton Kutcher speaks to @SenBobCorker before a hearing on efforts to end modern slavery
— POLITICO (@politico) February 15, 2017
He was very relieved when the committee showed interest in how Thorn’s technology could unmask traffickers who use the Internet to protect their anonymity.
“It’s taking the internet, which is largely anonymous, and making it far less anonymous. Spotlight reaches out to victims and calculates priorities and accuracy in getting them out.”
At the hearing, Kutcher pressed just how important it is to foster both public and private partnerships, because, he said, most companies want to do the right thing by combating traffickers who continuously change their modus operandi.
“Private companies bring different resources to the table, so it’s vital to take advantage of every resource.”
He also believes it’s important to address the pipelines to human trafficking, meaning taking a good, hard look at the foster care system – a breeding ground for abuse.
Kutcher testified at the hearing alongside the advocacy group Human Rights First, and both are very concerned at Trump’s executive order limiting immigration. Kutcher feels that refugees are the most vulnerable to traffickers.
“When people are left out and not supported and not given love they need to grow, it becomes an incubator for trafficking.”
In an emotionally-charged address, Kutcher asked the committee for continued partnership and support.
“The right to pursue happiness for so many is stripped away. It’s raped, it’s abused and it’s taken by force or coercion and sold for the momentary happiness of another. I’m here to defend the right to pursue happiness.”
CNN reported that Kutcher praised the committee for its support, saying that the opportunity to speak was one of the greatest honors of his life. As he spoke of his work with victims, his voice cracked many times.
“As part of my anti-trafficking work, I’ve met victims in Russia, I’ve met victims in India, I’ve met victims that have been trafficked from Mexico, victims from New York and New Jersey and all across our country. I’ve been on FBI raids where I’ve seen things that no person should ever see. 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.”
— The Hill (@thehill) February 14, 2017
Kutcher believes that using technology as a tool can disable slavery. As his presentation, he spoke very knowledgeably on the issue, calling for specific actions including funding for new technology, looking into the pipeline for victims, fostering public and private sector relationships, working closer with both mental health and foster care systems, and using enforcement and legislation initiatives to differentiate solution sets for labour and sex trafficking.
Committee Senator Bob Corker and his fellow committee members were highly impressed with Kutcher and his work, saying it’s “inspirational – a true testament to entrepreneurialism and people taking a risk toward social good.” All members, and Kutcher, wore red X pins, the symbol of modern-day slavery awareness.
[Featured Image by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images]