Ashton Kutcher fought back tears as he addressed the Senate yesterday in a plea to combat child sex trafficking.
The actor, who is also the chairman of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, a foundation dedicated to digitally fighting child sexual exploitation, recalled to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee his experiences of witnessing unimaginable abuse while working to fight child sex trafficking with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
"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," he said. "I’ve been on FBI raids where I’ve seen things that no person should ever see."
Kutcher fought back emotions as he continued, speaking as both an advocate and a father. The 39-year-old has a 2-year-old daughter and 2-month-old son with wife and actress Mila Kunis.
"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," he continued. "And this child was so conditioned by her environment that she thought she was engaging in play."
During the devastating testimony, Kutcher also explained more about Thorn, which builds software to combat trafficking. One program is called Spotlight, which helps identify human trafficking victims faster and is used by more than 4,000 law enforcement officers across all 50 states, prioritizing their caseloads according to Thorn's website.
Kutcher recalled an incident of a teen girl who met a man online who later kidnapped and sold her into sex trafficking. With Thorn's Spotlight software, she was found in three days, he said, and returned to her family.
"In six months, with 25 percent of our users reporting, we've identified over 6,000 trafficking victims—2,000 of which are minors," he said. "We're reducing the investigation time by 60 percent."
However, that wasn't always the case. Recounting a phone call from the Department of Homeland Security, Kutcher described the frustration he felt at not being able to help when it came to saving a little girl.
"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," he said.
I’ve been on FBI raids where I’ve seen things that no person should ever see.
DHS officers had asked if Kutcher's foundation had a tool, but at the time he had to say no.
"And it devastated me," he said. "It haunted me."
Three months later, he said, after building that tool, the answer would be yes.
And that's why he began speaking with the committee in the first place—not only to raise awareness about the reality of child trafficking but also to request support for his foundation and funds to enhance its software, which also includes a tool called Solis that, Kutcher asserted, reduces investigation times of dark-web trafficking and gets smarter with use.
"[Solis] is being used by 40 agencies across the world today in beta," he said. "It gets smarter and more efficient and more cost-effective over time."
In addition to asking for financial support from the committee, Kutcher highlighted the public-private partnerships that have enabled his software to succeed, as well as the need to help children once they are found.
After all, when these children are identified, rescued and trying to recover, Kutcher said, we need more support for them once they return to their life. Otherwise, the recidivism rate is high, he added.
Because, he said, "if this is their means of survival and the only source of love that they have in their life, that's what they go for."