Today is Human Trafficking National Awareness Day. One person who has been playing a key role in anti-trafficking has been actor Ashton Kutcher. He’s been using cutting edge technology and his organization, Thorn, to make a difference when it comes to children and human trafficking.
Here’s a look back at Kutcher’s testimony before Congress.
The actor testified last year before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a hearing on progress in combating modern slavery. Kutcher spoke on behalf of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, an organization he co-founded with then-wife Demi Moore in 2009 that builds software to fight human trafficking.
These days, he called his “day job” his work as chairman of Thorn and also as a father — he and wife Mila Kunis welcomed son, Dimitri Portwood, in November, and daughter, Wyatt, is two years old.
In an impassioned 15-minute opening testimony, Kutcher praised the committee for bipartisan cooperation on the issue, calling his opportunity to speak “one of the greatest honors of my life,” his voice cracking multiple times as he recalled his work with victims.
“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,” Kutcher said, his voice choked with emotion. “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.”
Kutcher pressed the importance of using technology as a tool that can be used to disable slavery, citing specific progress.
“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%,” he said of a software tool called “Spotlight.”
Another tool called “Solis” has taken investigation times from dark web material from three years to three weeks, Kutcher said.
Ashton Kutcher spoke knowledgeably on the issue and called for specific actions, including additional funding for the technology, fostering public-private sector relationships, looking into the pipeline for victims, including working with the foster care system and the mental health system, and differentiating solution sets for sex trafficking and labor trafficking with enforcement and legislation initiatives.
Kutcher’s work as been called an “inspirational,” and “a true testament to entrepreneurialism and people taking a risk toward social good.”
“When people are left out, when they’re neglected, when they’re not supported, and when they’re not given the love they need to grow, it becomes an incubator for trafficking, and this refugee crisis, if we want to be serious about ending slavery, we cannot ignore them, we cannot ignore our support for this issue in that space, because otherwise, we’re going to have to deal with it for years to come,” he said.
Asked by Rubio about sites like Backpage.com that can be used to provide an internet forum for transactional sex, Kutcher said he’s been working to fight this for six years alongside sites like Craigslist and Village Voice, but when one site closes, another opens.
“It’s a game of whack-a-mole, right? And the only question we have is not relative to censoring it, it’s not relative to shutting down the internet, it’s relative to can we build the tools that are better than their tools to fight what’s happening?” Kutcher said.
Here was Ashton Kutcher’s testimony:
Child trafficking victims, whether for labor, sex or organ trafficking, come from all backgrounds, include both boys and girls. They span a wide age range from 1 to 18 years old. Sex trafficking victims up to roughly 25 years old most often started as young as 14. Children are trafficked out of, or into the United States from all regions of the world and represent a variety of different races, ethnic groups and religions. They may be brought to the U.S. legally or smuggled in.
Trafficked children can be lured to the U.S. through the promise of school or work and promised the opportunity to send money back to their families. Children are also vulnerable to kidnappers, pimps, and professional brokers. Some children are even sold to traffickers by their families, who may or may not have an understanding of what will happen to the child. U.S. born children are also trafficked within the U.S., coming from any racial group, socio-economic background, and come from or trafficked within both city and rural areas.
More about Human Trafficking:
In 2016, Human trafficking in the United States rose 35.7 percent from the previous year, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Polaris, which runs the hotline, reported 7,572 cases involving 6,340 females, 978 males and 70 listed as “gender minorities.” A total of 4,890 reported cases involved adults and 2,387 involved minors. In some cases, callers do not provide demographic information.
The hotline defines trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.”
The hotline fielded a total of 26,727 calls last year.
California was the No.1 state with 1,323 cases followed by Texas with 670 and Florida with 550. All three states reported an increase in trafficking crimes.
The type of trafficking was broken down into: sex, 5,551; labor, 1,057; non-specified, 696; and sex and labor, 268.
In labor trafficking, 201 cases were reported in domestic work followed by 124 in agriculture and 100 with traveling sales crews.
Broken down by venues/industries, 584 cases were hotel-motel based followed by 559 at commercial-front brothels.
Since 2007 when the hotline started, it has recorded 128,686 calls involving 31,659 cases.
The hotline’s phone number is 888-373-7888. The hotline can also be accessed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, submitting a tip through the online tip reporting form and visiting the Web portal at www.humantraffickinghotline.org.
Resources: UPI, Ark of Hope, Thorn, KTLA.com
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