Ashton Kutcher wants to stop online human trafficking and child pornography.
The actor’s long-running efforts to stamp out human trafficking hit a high note recently when he revealed that he’d helped save more than 6000 human trafficking victims and identified over 2000 abusers.
However, some have questioned the effectiveness of Mr Kutcher’s work and emphasised the need to better assist survivors of human trafficking.
In October, Mr Kutcher appeared on Today to discuss his new TV series The Ranch and used the opportunity to promote the work of Thorn, or Thorn Technology Task Force.
Mr Kutcher founded the organisation with ex-wife Demi Moore under the name ‘The Demi and Ashton Foundation’ in 2008.
The not-for-profit aims to utilise the resources of technology companies including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and Tumblr to assist government agencies in their work to stop online child pornography and human trafficking.
“We’ve found and identified over 6000 trafficking victims this year…” Mr Kutcher told Today. “And we’ve identified and discovered 2000 traffickers.”
Online campaigns Thorn has run since its commencement have starred the likes of Sean Penn, Justin Timberlake, Michelle Obama, Bradley Cooper, Mr Kutcher and Ms Moore.
They’ve had slogans like “real men don’t buy girls” and their Facebook Page currently displays the banner “we are digital defenders of children.”
In 2011, Mr Kutcher and Ms Moore conducted their only prime time interview together on CNN with reporter Piers Morgan to shed light on the issue.
“What we’ve found is that most people aren’t even aware of what’s going on,” Ms Moore told Mr Morgan.
Thorn’s work in this arena hasn’t gone without criticism, however.
In 2011, The Village Voice wrote a cover story on the state of human trafficking in America and argued that the number of human trafficking victims and perpetrators in the US was significantly lower than what Mr Kutcher, Ms Moore and many other mainstream publications were claiming.
Warning: some readers might find the content of this video disturbing
TVV argued that the “100,000-300,000 victims” statistic being referred to was based on a study by the University of Pennsylvania, which found 100,000-300,000 children in America were at risk of becoming victims of child trafficking, as distinct from currently being subjected to abuse.
TVV also sourced police data revealing that in America’s 37 biggest cities, the average number of arrests for juvenile prostitution was 827 per year.
They also maintained that while the American government was pouring millions into child pornography and human trafficking prevention, hardly anything was going toward helping survivors.
Mr Kutcher hit back at TVV’s criticism of Thorn’s efforts via Twitter, igniting a public feud.
“Hey @villagevoice if you ever want 2 have a productive conversation about how 2 end human trafficking as opposed to belittling my efforts lmk [let me know],” wrote the star.
“Hey @villagevoice if you want to dispute the online data I’ve collected about the consumption of child porn or the hard facts from NCMEC lmk.”
hey @villagevoice hows the lawsuit from the 15 year old victim who alleges you helped enslave them going?
— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) June 30, 2011
Mr Kutcher included a link to a comment he posted on Quora about the complexity of gathering data on human trafficking.
“Proving force, fraud, or coercion can be very difficult considering that the victims have often times been brain washed, beaten, raped, molested, threatened, and tormented and fear revealing the identity of their trafficker …Therefore, gathering precise data set can be very complicated.”
“We need more initiatives to support survivors of human trafficking,” Mrs Dillow told The New Daily.
“Prevention is good and needed, but investing into reputable organisations that are not only creating change, but are giving survivors tools and resources to live the change through embracing their dreams is critical.”
Mrs Dillow was exposed to sexual abuse from family members at a young age, before being given to child pornographers and subsequently sold to pimps.
“When I speak to human trafficking victims I tell them three basic things: you have so much potential, you are so much more than the things that have happened to you, and your story does not have define you or your future.”
Australia is not exempt from human trafficking. Between 2004 and 2015, the Australian Federal Police took 619 referrals for slavery and human trafficking.
Since 2008, The Salvation Army Slavery and Trafficking Safe House in Sydney – with just 10 beds – has already supported 400 people from a whole range of ages and demographics.
According to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, 20,000 children are reported missing in Australia each year.
Although The Village Voice might argue a very small percentage of those children will wind up in child pornography or human trafficking rings, it’s likely Mr Kutcher and human trafficking survivors such as Mrs Dillow would argue otherwise.