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Finance & Innovation

Ashton Kutcher Is Fighting Online Child Sexual Abuse With Backing From a $280 Million Fund

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Online child sexual abuse disproportionately affects young girls and is frequently driven by poverty. While the crime against these children may occur online, the devastating effects of this exploitation is real. Join the movement to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence here.

Ashton Kutcher’s nonprofit, Thorn, aims to eliminate online child sexual exploitation, including trafficking. The organization has already helped to identify thousands of victims, and on Tuesday it became one of eight organizations to receive money from the Audacious Project, a $280 million TED-backed fund.

Thorn, founded in 2012 by actor and tech investor Ashton Kutcher and actress Demi Moore, partners with tech companies to build products that help identify, track, and erase child sexual abuse material on the internet.  

"Child sexual abuse obviously is a human crime, but the internet is introducing this entirely new dynamic," Julie Cordua, the CEO of Thorn, told Business Insider. "Now you can find entire chat rooms and places where there are people who will convince you that this type of behavior is OK."

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Redouble Their Efforts By Amending Laws to Prevent Sexual Violence

With the added funding, Thorn aims to build and expand Spotlight — its web-based tool, which is now used by law enforcement officers in almost all US states and in parts of Canada — and a new product called Safer.

"Time is of the essence and capital helps us move faster. The funding allows us to internally build faster," Kutcher wrote in an email to CNN Business. "This is no longer a blind unintended consequence of the democratization of information ... We need to make it a priority."

Kutcher and Moore first learned about the extent of child sex trafficking after watching a documentary on the issue in Cambodia, where children account for one third of the the country's sex industry, estimated to total 40,000 to 100,000 people. After digging deeper into the issue, they realized the story wasn’t much different at home in the United States.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world. In 2014, children comprised 28% of detected victims. In the US alone, the human trafficking hotline registered 14,117 calls about potential victims and 5,147 cases last year.

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In an effort to highlight the gravity of the issue, Kutcher testified before Congress at a hearing on about combating modern slavery in January 2017. Addressing the constitutional right to pursue happiness, he spoke about the injustices victims of human trafficking face.

“The right to pursue happiness for so many is stripped away, its raped, its abused, it’s taken by force, fraud or coercion, it is sold for the momentary happiness of another,” he said.  

According to Thorn’s user survey, Spotlight has already cut down on  63% of critical search time and has helped identify 31,197 victims of human trafficking — 9,380 of them children — and 10,496 traffickers in the past three years.

The company has its sights set on even greater impact. Cordua imagines a future where companies will be rewarded for eliminating abuse materials from their online platform.

Safer, which helps companies eliminate sexual abuse material from their platforms, is currently being beta tested by image-hosting sites Imgur and Flickr. The company plans to scale Safer and to eventually charge for the tool to help make the organization’s funding and work more sustainable, CNN reported.