Ashton Kutcher, founder of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, is doing more than putting his impassioned, well-known voice before lawmakers — he has tools that are helping law enforcement agencies rescue victims of sex trafficking and slavery.
Kutcher addressed the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee about human trafficking and slavery as a witness in support of anti-trafficking legislation that increases federal support to states and local governments (video below).
Tech Tools That Work
Thorn helped create BEFREE text shortcode to give victims of sex trafficking a way to seek help. The tool has also been used by witnesses to report sex-trafficking related crimes, according to Thorn’s website. Thus far, BEFREE has created 3,808 conversations that led to 3,631 cases with 18 potential victims extracted from their situations.
The company most notably launched a Web app called Spotlight that assists police investigations into trafficking by helping them quickly sift through thousands of classifieds and forum posts advertising escort services from several sites.
Through machine learning that analyzes data, it identifies suspicious ads that might involve minors. The tool matches images so individual cases are easier to track. Spotlight is now used nationwide by more than 4,000 law enforcement officers in 780 agencies to help identify more than 6,300 U.S. victims of sex trafficking. Nearly 2,000 were children.
So far, the top 5 states for Spotlight-assisted investigations are Oregon, Wisconsin, California, Arizona and Texas. One special agent investigator in Hawaii called Spotlight “a force multiplier at every stage of the operation,” noting that the tool:
- Gathers intelligence
- Plots trends prior to conducting an operation
- Helps allocate investigation resources effectively
Tech That Tackles Sex Trafficking
The founder and former chief executive officer for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Ernie Allen, is on Thorn’s board of directors. Blogging for Thorn, he wrote about how the technology is tackling the problems of online child pornography and sexual abuse.
Through the extraordinary Innovation Lab, hackathons and partnerships with the technology industry, Thorn is developing and testing prototypes, putting the successful tools into the hands of those who will use them, and then measuring their impact. It is entrepreneurial, taking a business-like approach to solving one of the world’s most daunting, complex challenges. Thorn is changing the way America and the world respond to the explosion of child sexual abuse images online, the migration of human trafficking from the streets to the internet, the emergence of the anonymous Dark Web, and so much more,” said Allen.
Thorn is targeting global trafficking on the Dark Web through a new tool called Solis. Kutcher said the tool in beta is being tested by multiple agencies and it is crunching the time it takes to research a case from three years to three weeks.
It’s already helped rescue 40 children.