Let’s get one thing straight: Ashton Kutcher isn’t “just an actor.” As Chairman and Co-Founder of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, an international organization that fights against human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children, his work is changing the fates of thousands upon thousands of human trafficking victims.
So, why would Ashton go before U.S. Congress to discuss human trafficking? For two main reasons: to educate, and to call to action. The government has the power to be part of the solution, to change the way we treat victims and perpetrators of human trafficking and sex slavery, and Congress has the power to help eradicate human trafficking by financing projects like Ashton’s, implementing stricter regulations, and making victim and perpetrator mental health treatment a priority.
The Sad Truth About Human Trafficking
Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons states that “exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide and 4.5 million people trapped in forced sex trafficking around the globe. At least 100,000 children are prostituted annually in the U.S., adding to the $9.8 billion U.S. sex trafficking industry. This is an extremely lucrative business, as pimps typically make between $150K and $200K per child annually and they usually exploit 4-6 girls, on average.
The number of people trafficked against their will and the level of interest amongst buyers grows every single year at an alarming rate. In 2013 alone, NCMEC reviewed 22 million images and videos of suspected child sexual abuse imagery.
Many children in sex trafficking rings aren’t even conscious of what’s going on around them. They’re so conditioned by their handlers that “they think they’re just playing,” as Kutcher puts it. If you know anything about the government program MK Ultra, it’s easy to imagine how these children can be manipulated and brainwashed into thinking that pedophilia is okay.
How Thorn Is Using Technology to Fight It
Thorn has designed different types of software to help fight human trafficking, one of which is Spotlight, a web-based tool that can be used by law enforcement to prioritize their workload, and which gets smarter and more efficient the more it’s used. Spotlight is currently being used by 4,000 officers in the U.S. and allows law enforcers to reduce investigation time by 60%.
There’s been a lot of controversy recently over the use of AI, and more sophisticated technologies being used in the workplace, as some have the potential to threaten jobs. However, this technology could mean the difference between saving a little girl from living her life in child sex ring and not finding her at all. One of the greatest obstacles law enforcers face with these cases is time; children can be raped and forced into these underground rings in a matter of hours, yet many of these investigations take months or even years.
In Ashton’s speech to Congress, he points out that since technology is currently being used to enable slavery, why shouldn’t we use it to help end it as well? The dark net is a dangerous hub that allows pedophiles from all over the globe to engage in these types of activities. But, it wasn’t always this terrible place; it can and still is used for whistleblowers to communicate, and acts as a safe community for sensitive subjects to be discussed. As Ashton points out, technology is powerless without human will, and we have an opportunity here to use this technology to improve society immensely, as long as we will it.
Another tool that his company developed is Solace, which is being used in beta by more than 40 agencies worldwide now to help law enforcers free sex trafficking victims, and just like Spotlight, it’s getting better and better. Solace is anticipated to be able to cut down investigation time from three years to only three weeks.
Although the technology clearly focuses on finding the victims, a huge issue that Ashton sheds light upon is the pipelines that allow these industries to thrive. Why are so many people on this planet sexually attracted to children and how did this problem become a global epidemic?
Well, one of these pipelines is actually through the foster care system. In 2016, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that one in six endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims.
Ashton states, “I was astonished to find out that 70% of the inmates in the prisons across this country have touched the foster care system and 80% of the people on death row were at some point in time exposed to the foster care system… Foster care children are 4 times more likely to be exposed to sexual abuse. That’s a breeding ground for trafficking, I promise you that.”
Another pipeline he mentions is the lack of mental health support offered to both victims and perpetrators. We cannot just hand people prescriptions and assume that this will put an end to their nightmares. Anyone who is subject to this kind of abuse will likely require long-term counselling and therapy, and so will their perpetrators.
This isn’t just an issue of search and rescue. Human trafficking can only be stopped if we work toward fixing the entire system. This means understanding why this happens in the first place so we can prevent it from occurring, as well as providing better support to victims and perpetrators after the fact.
You can watch the full video of Ashton Kutcher presenting to the U.S. Congress below:
The U.S. Government Is Part of the Problem
In 2016, there were 7,572 cases of human trafficking in the U.S., most of which were sex trafficking victims. If you can believe it, that’s actually a 35.7% increase from the previous year. Keep in mind that these were only the victims who were reported, so this number is much lower than the actual amount of people in the U.S. sold to the human trafficking trades.
According to the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, the U.S. has the largest share — a whopping 50% — of commercialized child pornography websites in the world. Tons of Americans each year will also engage in sex tourism, which is when someone travels to countries with less strict or no laws surrounding prostitution and child sex slavery.
There has also been a lot of speculation lately on child sex rings being used by the U.S. government. You may be familiar with the PizzaGate scandal, which unearthed a very high-level elitist global pedophile ring the U.S. government was involved in. If this is true, which would be unsurprising, then the U.S. government isn’t just part of the problem, they’re at the very heart of it.
This isn’t the first time people were concerned over sexual abuse by government officials. Ted Gunderson, former FBI special agent and head of their L.A. office, worked to uncover years worth of information on high-level pedophilia, sexual abuse, and satanic rituals performed by the elite. You can read more about that in our CE article here.
Former U.S. representative Cynthia McKinney also knew about the government’s relationship to human trafficking, and she actually addressed it in 2005. She grilled Donald Rumsfeld on DynCorp’s child trafficking business of selling women and children (source).
Sex trafficking isn’t the only issue at hand here. Human trafficking includes labour trafficking and slavery, to which U.S. corporations directly contribute. These companies take advantage of less strict labour laws in under-developed countries, paying unfair wages to employees with poor working conditions.
If the U.S. imposed stricter laws on corporations, not only would it reduce slavery globally, but it could also benefit the U.S. economy as well. Theoretically, if corporations stopped employing so many slaves abroad and started giving those jobs to American citizens instead and paying them fair wages, unemployment rates might improve.
Why Both the Survivors and Perpetrators Deserve Help
We tend to dehumanize pedophiles, child molesters, rapists, and abusers, demanding punishment for their crimes and responding to their actions with hate and anger. However, if we fail to recognize the humanity in them, how will we ever learn why these violent acts occurred in the first place?
Have you ever made a mistake that forced you to really question your humanity? In reality, everything we do is human; our mistakes don’t dehumanize us, they’re part of what makes us human in the first place. Unfortunately, these “mistakes” include violent acts such as rape, pedophilia, and enslavement.
We shouldn’t be encouraging trafficking victims to hate their perpetrators, but rather to forgive them. By choosing hate, we end up bottling up anger, which ultimately hurts no one but ourselves. If we choose forgiveness instead, we can learn to better cope with the more difficult events in our lives. Even if you feel the perpetrator doesn’t deserve forgiveness, I’m sure you can agree that the victim deserves freedom. And forgiveness can give us the type of freedom so many of us desperately seek.
Ashton finishes his speech perfectly, summing up the belief that everyone deserves to be happy, regardless of the horrors they’ve faced. He says:
“Happiness can be given to no man, it must be earned. It must be earned through generosity and through purpose, but the right to pursue it? The right to pursue it 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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