Mr Kutcher urged US legislators to drum up government support for the development of new technology to fight online sex trafficking, saying: “technology can be used to enable slavery, but it can also be used to disable slavery”.
US actor and tech investor Ashton Kutcher has made headlines for his emotional testimony, about the work of his anti-trafficking foundation, at a US Senate hearing on modern slavery in Washington.
Kutcher wants government support for development of new technology to fight sex trafficking
Actor was speaking to Senate hearing examining US role in ending modern slavery
Kutcher is chairman of Thorn, a non-profit that has created technologies to help identify abuse victims
Kutcher urged US legislators to drum up government support for the development of new technology to fight online sex trafficking.
The actor and philanthropist was close to tears when he talked to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee about what his foundation Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children does.
The Senate hearing, Ending Modern Slavery: Building on Success, examined progress the US is making in global efforts to end modern slavery and human trafficking.
It follows heightened scrutiny of classified advertising websites such as Backpage.com for carrying ads that offer children for commercial sex.
"Technology can be used to enable slavery, but it can also be used to disable slavery," Kutcher said.
He spoke as chairman of Thorn, a tech non-profit that has produced web-based tools to help police officers identify and locate victims of trafficking.
"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 is 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 7-year-old girl was being sexually abused and that content was being spread around the dark web and she'd been being abused and they'd watched her for three years and they could not find the perpetrator. Asking us for help.
"We were the last line of defence, an actor and his foundation were the potential last line of defence."
Thorn technology used worldwide to fight online slavery
During his appearance in the Senate, Mr Kutcher explained that the "tools" Thorn has created, called Spotlight and Solis, are vital in achieving these goals and can be used by law enforcement to prioritise their case load.
The Spotlight tool, which Kutcher said has helped identify 6,000 victims in six months, was created after a 2012 sex trafficking survey found that 63 per cent of underage victims reported being bought or sold online.
The Solis tool, Kutcher said, is currently being used by 40 agencies across the world today in beta and he expects the tool will "get smarter and more efficient and cost effective over time".
Kutcher, who is married to actress Mila Kunis and has two children, co-founded Thorn in 2010 and said becoming a parent had propelled his crusade against trafficking.
"The right to pursue happiness 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," the 39-year-old said.
"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."
Each year, up to 300,000 children are at risk of being trafficked for commercial sex in the United States, according to the US Department of Justice.
Most sex trafficking victims are advertised or sold online, according to a US Senate subcommittee report that was released last month.
The actor's testimony comes ahead of the upcoming annual Shine a Light on Slavery Day, on 23 February.
|Ashton Kutcher teared up as he testified about human trafficking at the Senate Foreign Relations on Wednesday in Washington D.C. Photo: Getty|
Ashton Kutcher's moving testimony to fight online sex trafficking
Ashton Kutcher teared up as he testified about human trafficking at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Ending Modern Slavery: Building on Success hearing on Wednesday.
The actor, co-founder of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, an organisation that works to combat human trafficking, said he receives criticism for his work in human rights, but that he is doing it for his two children Wyatt, 2, and Dimitri, 2 months.
"This is the time the internet trolls tell me to stick to my day job. Let me tell you about my day job," he said before explaining the work of Thorn to the committee.
Kutcher said he has seen victims of human trafficking in Russia, India, Mexico, New York and New Jersey.
"I've seen things that no person should ever see," he said about going along on FBI raids.
To make a more powerful point, he added, "My other day job is I'm the father of two."
"I've seen video content of a child that is the same age as mine being raped by an American man," Kutcher said, tearing up. "She thought she was engaging in play."
"That's my day job and I'm sticking to it," he added.
Kutcher discussed a web-based tool Thorn created, Spotlight, which is reducing the investigation time of trafficking cases by 60 per cent.
While explaining other Thorn tools, Kutcher said the Department of Homeland Security asked him a while ago if his organisation could help their efforts to find victims.
"I had to say no and it devastated me, it haunted me," he said. "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."
To help his efforts, he made recommendations, especially for financing.
Before the That '70s Show actor began his heartfelt testimony about his work, he blew a kiss at Senator John McCain.
"You were better looking in the movies," McCain said.
"My wife says that, too," Kutcher said.
Later in his testimony, the actor said McCain is "not only a war hero, but a hero to his issue."
"He, by the way, flew all night. He's working right now on a film," chairman Bob Corker said introducing Kutcher.
Corker said the actor had dinner with his wife, actress Mia Kunis, before taking a redeye to Washington D.C.
"Very smart man on Valentine's Day," the senator said.
Kutcher passionately testifies on his anti-sex trafficking efforts
No one got "Punk'd" Wednesday morning when Ashton Kutcher came to Capitol Hill.
The actor testified Wednesday 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. (He caught a red eye to Washington after a Valentine's Day dinner with Kunis and will return home this afternoon.)
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. "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.
He 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.
Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker called Kutcher's work "inspirational," and "a true testament to entrepreneurialism and people taking a risk toward social good."
Corker, his fellow committee members, including Sens. Tim Kaine and Marco Rubio, and Kutcher all wore red X pins, a symbol calling awareness to the issue of modern slavery.
"Thankful for Ashton Kutcher and the work @thorn is doing to rescue trafficking victims. It was great to have him on the Hill today," Corker tweeted.
The former host of "Punk'd" got political at times, speaking out on the current political climate regarding the refugee crisis.
"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.
"My wife came to this country on a refugee visa in the middle of the Cold War! My blood is boiling right now!," he tweeted, adding, "We have never been a nation built on fear. Compassion that is the root ethic of America. Our differences are fundamental 2R sustainability."
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.
The hearing wasn't without it's lighter moments: Sen. John McCain is not a member of the committee but came to thank its members for dedication to the issue, acknowledged the committee's famous guest.
"Ashton, you were better looking in the movies," McCain said.
Kutcher blew the senator a kiss, saying his wife thought so, too.