Ashton Kutcher made a personal plea Wednesday in Washington, D.C., urging lawmakers to support efforts to end modern slavery and child sexual exploitation.
The actor became emotional several times as he explained that, in his work as a human-rights activist, he has seen things “no person should ever see.”
Kutcher sought more funding for Thorn, the international anti-human-trafficking organization he co-founded that develops software to help authorities locate victims of abuse.
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“I’ve seen video content of a child that’s the same age as mine, being raped by an American man who was a sex tourist in Cambodia,” Kutcher, who has two children with actress Mila Kunis, said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
“This child was so conditioned by her environment that she thought she was engaging in play.”
He said new technology is needed to fight websites that advertise minor children for sexual exploitation. He received enthusiastic support and thanks from lawmakers including Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who applauded his work with Thorn.
“Technology can be used to enable slavery, but it can also be used to disable slavery,” Kutcher said. “Can we build the tools that are better than their tools to fight what is happening?”
He described how the Department of Homeland Security contacted Thorn a few years ago asking whether it had software to help locate a girl who showed up on a video on the dark web being raped.
“It devastated me,” Kutcher said as his voice trembled. “It haunted me because every night, I had to go to sleep every night and think about that little girl who was still being abused, and the fact that if I built the right thing, we could save her.
“So that’s what we did. And now, if I got that phone call, the answer would be ‘yes.’”
He urged the creation of public-private partnerships. Many law enforcement agencies are understaffed and lack enough resources to fight human trafficking and can use the help of technology, Kutcher said.
He said several agencies have used Thorn’s beta software to cut down investigation time.
One of the tools helped identify 6,000 trafficking victims in six months, 2,000 of whom were underage, he testified. The tool has helped 4,000 law enforcement officials in 900 agencies, he said.
“The technology we’re building is efficient, nimble (and) enduring, and it only gets smarter with time,” he said.
Kutcher, best known for comedic roles on TV and in films, told the Senate panel that “internet trolls” tell him to “stick to his day job” when he gets political.
But his testimony made clear that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
“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,” he said. “It is sold for the momentary happiness of another.”