Thorn: The Digital Defenders of Children

Fixing the problem of Human Trafficking one technological tool at a time.


Amelia Botts

The organization helping to stop sextortion of children.

Computers and other forms of technology make it so much easier for human trafficking to occur.

Thorn is the digital defenders of children, a nonprofit organization that is crafting new technology to help stop child exploitation. Thorn was created in 2012 with Julie Cordua as the CEO, and was co-founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.  After Ashton and Demi had watched a documentary on what was happening to children in Cambodia, they learned something about the world that you can’t ever forget.  As they started to research and learn more about the problem at hand, they realized that this is just as bad of a problem in the United States as it is in other countries.  Technology has made child sex trafficking much easier.  The number of child sexual abuse files reviewed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has grown rapidly from 450,000 in 2004 and 25 million in 2015, according to Thorns website. 63% of victimized kids Thorn encountered had been advertised online.  These statistics are shocking and horrifying, and Thorn is just one of the many foundations helping to try and stop this ever-growing problem.

Spotlight is a really good tool for officers to use to help save victims.

Thorn’s work is guided by three principles.  The first is to accelerate victim identification.  Thorn works to identify technical needs to produce tools to allow law enforcement to stay ahead of perpetrators and rescue more children.  Spotlight is a product developed based on the insights from a survivor survey.  Spotlight accelerates victim identification and helps law enforcement make the best use of their time to help find more children.  Spotlight is used by officers in all 50 states and in Canada; this web-based tool has helped identify 31,197 victims with 9,380 of them being children, claimed by Thorn.  Reports from users show that over 8 kids per day on average are being identified using spotlight.  A victim was identified in 83% of the cases reported by users where spotlight was used.  In 37,741 cases, 31,197 victims were identified with 10,296 traffickers identified, stated on Thorns website.  “It is the greatest tool we have in the fight against human trafficking.” States a special agent in the Wisconsin human trafficking task force.

Safer uses four tools to eliminate CSAM from platforms

The second principle is having equipped platforms.  Many companies do not have the resources or knowledge to implement child safety procedures and tools.  The platforms are vulnerable to abusive content and behavior.  The Sound Practices Guide offers the best practices and concrete steps to companies for helping protect children.  Safer is a complete solution to help stop CSAM, child sexual abuse material, from spreading across platforms. Which is another way to help companies speed up the identification and removal of child abuse content. Safer helps companies share the best practices to keeping their platforms safe and how to detect and remove illegal content the fastest way.

The third principal is empowering the public.  This is where people share what they’ve learned and help raise awareness to help stop further abuse.  Thorns latest campaign seeks to increase awareness about sextortion. Sextortion is the threat to reveal intimate images to get you to do something you don’t want to. This campaign that Thorn created wants to stop sextortion before it starts. The goal is to destigmatize the issue, and encourage individuals to reach out and seek help. The foundation also helps with deterrence, law enforcement isn’t equipped in identifying people and thorn is here to help intercept this behavior and change it.

Kids all around the world are being preyed on by predators using technology.
The ultimate goal is eliminating CSAM from the internet.  Reports of CSAM online have increased 10,000% since 2004, according to Thorn’s website. Mike Botts, an attorney in Williamsburg, has strong feelings on the subject. “First of all,” he says, “its repulsive that people prey on children in the first place, and its not the fact that that this happens online its the fact that people act on it.” He continued,  “Finding a solution is important and that solution is education on the issue not just silencing the people. Along with education the people who are using the websites for illegal and illicit actions need to be prosecuted to an extent that its less likely to happen again.”

Another resident of Williamsburg, Samantha Klimczack, Lafayette High School Senior, shared her ideas. “I think we should find a solution to help stop this problem and that is what Thorn is doing which is good. It makes me sad that these things are happening to people our age.” Cordua told CNN Business their audacious goal is “difficult” but “totally possible if were able to mobilize the field, the industry and governments around the world.”

The response to this epidemic must be altered for the digital age, it won’t be easy, but it can be done. When we don’t talk about the issue, abuse and injustice thrive. There are many ways to help and spread awareness about this tough topic and issue.  Have the hard conversations, share one post, wear a shirt, and talk to a friend. Spread the word because we have a solution in our near future.  If you go to Thorn’s website you can also donate, any donation helps in stopping this issue.  Your donations help Thorn turn technology into hope for the most vulnerable kids.