'I've been on FBI raids where I've seen things that no person should ever see’
Ashton Kutcher gave an emotional opening testimony on Wednesday, delivering an address on sex trafficking entitled ‘Ending Modern Slavery: Building on Success’, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Capital Hill, Washington DC.
To those who aren’t aware of Kutcher’s efforts, his ‘Hollywood’ presence might seem strange, but he is actually a huge part of the anti-sex trafficking movement, setting up Thorn with his ex wife, Demi Moore – a company that describes its team as Digital Defenders of Children.
‘My day job is as the Chairman and Co-Founder of Thorn,’ he announced to Capitol Hill. ‘We build software to fight human trafficking in the sexual exploitation of children, and that’s our core mission.’
He continued: ‘My other day job is that of the father of two, a two-month-old and a two-year-old, and as part of that job that I take very seriously, I believe that it is my effort to defend their right to pursue happiness, and to ensure a society and government that defends it as well.
He used his address to express how important the issue of sex trafficking was to combat, explaining the work his company had done and asking for help to advance their efforts.
‘The right to pursue happiness for so many, is stripped away,’ he announced, holding back tears. ‘It’s raped. It’s abused. It’s taken by force – it is sold for the momentary happiness of another.’
‘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.’
Going into detail, he explained, ‘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.’
‘I’ve been on the other end of a phone call from my team, asking for my help because we had received a call from the Department of Homeland Security, telling us that a seven-year-old girl was being sexually abused and that content was being spread around the dark web, and she had been being abused and they had watched her for three years – and they could not find the perpetrator, asking us for help.’
He continued: ‘When the Department of Homeland security called us and asked for our help and asked if we had a tool, I had to say no, and it devastated me. It haunted me, because for the next three months I had to sleep every night and think about that little girl that 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. We’ve taken these investigation times of dark web material from three years down to what we believe can be three weeks.’
He went on to talk about the piece of technology that his team had created, a software tool called spotlight. He described it as ‘a tool that can be used by law enforcement to prioritse their caseload.’ ‘It’s a neuronet’ he explained, ‘It gets smarter over time, it gets better and it gets more efficient as people use it. And 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%.’
‘I’d like to tell you a story about a 15 year old girl in Oakland, let’s call her Amy’ he continued. ‘Amy met a man online, starting talking to him, a short while later they met in person. Within hours Amy was abused, raped and forced into trafficking. She was sold for sex, and this isn’t an isolated incident, there’s not much that’s unusual about it. The only unusual thing is that Amy was found and returned to her family within three days – using the software that we created.’
‘Technology can be used to enable slavery,’ he admitted, ‘but it can also be used to disable slavery – and that’s what we’re doing.’
Closing his speech, he announced to the crowd, ‘The right to pursue happiness is every man’s right and I beg of you, that if you give people the right to pursue it, what you may find in return is happiness for yourself.’
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Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.
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