By Vanessa Papas: Most of us know Ashton Kutcher for his role in the comedy series Two And A Half Men and That ’70s Show and various other blockbuster movies including What Happens In Vegas, The Guardian and the cult hit Dude, Where’s My Car. But you may be surprised to hear that Kutcher is not only an actor and producer, but a businessman and tech investor who is dedicating his time to the fight against sexual abuse.
When Karla Jacinto was rescued from the clutches of a sex trafficking syndicate she had been raped an estimated 43 200 times. She was forced to have sex with up to 30 men a day, seven days a week, for four years before finally being rescued by police in 2008. What makes her story even more chilling is that Karla was just 12 years old when she was dragged into the sex slave industry. Her story highlights the brutal realities of a dark underworld that has destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of girls across the globe just like Karla. Today Karla is now 28 years old and an outspoken advocate against human trafficking. She, like many other survivors, is hoping new technology by Ashton Kutcher’s company, Thorn, will stop the abuse of other children, teens and women kidnapped and abducted for the commercial sex industry.
In 2008 Ashton Kutcher co-founded Thorn – a company with a mission to eliminate sex-trafficking and child exploitation over the Internet – along with his ex wife Demi Moore. The two went on to establish the Thorn Task Technical Force. Some 20 technology companies including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo!, Snapchat and Imgur are all part of this special task force. They dedicate their time and resources to searching the darker corners of the Internet, hunting out traffickers who have been involved in trafficking innocent people.
Since establishing Thorn, the organisation has so far, identified and rescued countless victims and captured over 2 000 traffickers – many of whom are now in the process of facing criminal charges.
This week, Kutcher announced the success behind a technology tool created by Thorn to cut sex trafficking urged United States legislators to drum up government support for this technology. ‘Spotlight’ targets online classified advertising websites that offer children for commercial sex trade.
“Technology can be used to enable slavery, but it can also be used to disable slavery,” said Kutcher. “Spotlight is a cloud-based data-collection and analysis tool that purportedly helps police identify and find sex traffickers and their victims. The app – funded by the McCain Foundation – has helped to identify over 16 000 trafficking victims so far since its inception, 2 000 of whom were minors.”
Kutcher explains ‘Spotlight’ is a result of informed research collected in the field, which helps his team, along with his many partners, remain on the cutting edge of technology.
“There are more than 100 000 escort ads posted every day in this country. Somewhere in that pile of data, are children who are bought and sold online for sex,” he said. “The Internet houses the largest marketplace for buying and selling children in this country.”
Kutcher, who is now married to actress Mila Kunis and has two children, said he is committed to the crusade against sex trafficking. “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 – it is sold for the momentary happiness of another,” he said. “I’ve been on FBI raids where I’ve seen things that no person should ever see.”
Sex trafficking, along with its correlative elements (kidnapping, rape, prostitution and physical abuse) is illegal in nearly every country in the world.
Each year, up to 300 000 children are at risk of being trafficked for commercial sex in the United States, according to the US Department of Justice, with most sex trafficking victims advertised or sold online. Sadly, South Africa is also a haven of sex slavery and child trafficking. According to a report issued by the Democratic Alliance, SA could have as many as 100 000 young girls working in underground sex dens as sex slaves, some of whom are as young as nine years old. South African children are subjected to trafficking mainly within the country, recruited from poor rural areas and brought to and moved between urban centres such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Bloemfontein.