21 Febrero 2017 14:34
'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.'
The above was part of the emotional testimony that actor Ashton Kutcher gave last Wednesday as he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a hearing about progress in combatting modern slavery.
With tears in his eyes and a voice often cracking with emotion, the actor reminded the Senate that human trafficking has increased exponentially in the US since the arrival of the internet (and especially the dark web). But he also said that there are ways of combatting the practice.
'I've met victims that have been trafficked from Mexico. I've met victims in New York and New Jersey and all across our country,' he said.
Kutcher has been fighting this problem since 2009. Together with his ex-wife, Demi Moore, he founded Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, an organisation whose objective is to use technology to prevent human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children.
The latest project developed by the company is called Spotlight, named after the Thomas McCarthy movie about the uncovering of a child sex ring. Thorn's Spotlight is a web-based tool that can search through online data for victims and perpetrators of human trafficking.
The software is able to trawl through the dark web to locate and analyse adverts for prostitution and for the buying and selling of victims. It can also identify those behind the crimes and detect whether the victims are minors. According to Thorn, there are more than 100,000 adverts like this in the US alone, and three out of every four cases appear online.
Although the software is not yet in its definitive version, Spotlight is already being used in all 50 US states, and by more than 4,000 police forces. Thanks to this software, 6325 victims (1980 of them underage) and 2186 traffickers have been identified. And there are many more suspects yet to be convicted.
Data from a user survey carried out last year found that Spotlight saves police 60% of investigation time, making it the best weapon against human trafficking in the country.
But Spotlight is not the only Thorn project that's proven itself effective. Before Spotlight, the platform had already launched Befree, a shortcut for SMS messages that enabled victims to ask for help without raising suspicion. The company also developed Deterrence, a child pornography prevention programme for parents and teachers. Data from Thorn suggests that since the programme began, it has received over 2 million unique visits.
In Kutcher's testimonial he called for specific political actions to be taken, including additional funding for technology, fostering public-private sector relationships and working with the foster care system and the mental health system. Kutcher and Thorn have done a huge amount in bringing the issue of modern slavery to light and creating the technology to combat it. Now, it's up to the Senate to take the necessary steps to tackle the problem head on.