At one of this Congress' first hearings, actor and investor Ashton Kutcher delivered an emotional testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday on the issue of ending modern slavery.
Alongside Elisa Massimino, the president and CEO of Human Rights First, Kutcher testified in his capacity as co-founder of Thorn, an organization that creates technology to help combat human trafficking and child sexual slavery, and spoke of disturbing incidents of child sexual slavery he encountered in his work with Thorn. (Kutcher is also a founder of A Plus.)
"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. This child was so conditioned by her environment that she thought she was engaging in play," Kutcher said. "I've been on the other end of a phone call from my team asking for my help because we had received a call from the Department of Homeland Security telling us that a 7-year-old was being sexually abused and that content was being spread around the dark web. She had been abused and they'd watched her for three years, and they could not find the perpetrator — asking us for help. We were the last line of defense: an actor and his foundation were the last line of defense."
Led by Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the committee, the hearing was part of a years-long Congressional effort that first took off with Corker's bipartisan End Modern Slavery Initiative, and comes in advance of "Shine A Light On Slavery Day" on Feb. 23, organized by END IT Movement.
At the hearing, Kutcher observed that the desire to tackle modern slavery is bipartisan, and recounted the criticism levied at celebrities vocal about their political views.
"Now, this is about the time I start talking about politics that the internet trolls tell me to stick to my day job. So I'd like to talk about my day job," Kutcher said. "My day job is as the chairman and co-founder of Thorn. We build software to fight human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. My other day job is that of a father of two: a 2-month-old and a 2-year-old, and as part of that job that I take very seriously, I believe it is my effort to defend their right to pursue happiness, and to ensure a society and government that defends it as well."
Both Kutcher and Massimino spoke at length at the hearing, identifying ways to combat the scourge of human trafficking and modern slavery. Massimino appealed to one of the committee's greatest concerns, discussing modern slavery as an issue of national security. She also urged lawmakers to recognize the inextricable link between human trafficking and the refugee crisis.
"If we want to end modern slavery, we should be doing everything we can to reduce the vulnerability of the refugee population," Massimino said. "Accepting Syrian and other vulnerable refugees makes us safer, by burnishing our global reputation as a humanitarian leader and supporting our allies in the Middle East who are struggling to host huge numbers of refugees within their borders. If our country is to be a global leader in the fight against human trafficking, we cannot turn our backs — at a time when they most need us — on the very people most likely to become its victims."
Founded in 2010 by Kutcher and Demi Moore, Thorn builds tools with private companies and works alongside tech organizations to combat modern slavery and sexual exploitation on various fronts. Thorn's executive director Julie Cordua told A Plus that Kutcher's testimony at the hearing happened through the organization's collaboration with Corker and his efforts on this issue.
"Ashton is clearly passionate about innovation, pushing hard to find the best solutions and deploying them quickly — and he also has a unique ability to raise awareness of this issue and bring more people into the fight," Cordua added. "[This is an] opportunity to shine a light on this work and the issue in general, helping to galvanize more US and global support to the broader fight."