No one got “Punk’d” Wednesday morning when Ashton Kutcher came to Capitol Hill.
The actor testified Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a hearing on progress in combating modern slavery. Kutcher spoke on behalf of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, an organization he co-founded with then-wife Demi Moore in 2009 that builds software to fight human trafficking.
These days, he called his “day job” his work as chairman of Thorn and also as a father — he and wife Mila Kunis welcomed son, Dimitri Portwood, in November, and daughter, Wyatt, is two years old. (He caught a red eye to Washington after a Valentine’s Day dinner with Kunis and will return home this afternoon.)
In an impassioned 15-minute opening testimony, Kutcher praised the committee for bipartisan cooperation on the issue, calling his opportunity to speak “one of the greatest honors of my life,” his voice cracking multiple times as he recalled his work with victims.
“As part of my anti-trafficking work, I’ve met victims in Russia, I’ve met victims in India, I’ve met victims that have been trafficked from Mexico, victims from New York and New Jersey and all across our country. I’ve been on FBI raids where I’ve seen things that no person should ever see,” Kutcher said. “I’ve seen video content of a child that’s the same age as mine being raped by an American man that was a sex tourist in Cambodia. And this child was so conditioned by her environment that she thought she was engaging in play.”
Kutcher pressed the importance of using technology as a tool that can be used to disable slavery, citing specific progress.
“It’s working. In six months, with 25% of our users reporting, we’ve identified over 6,000 trafficking victims, 2,000 of which are minors. This tool has enhanced 4,000 law enforcement officials in 900 agencies. And we’re reducing the investigation time by 60%,” he said of a software tool called “Spotlight.”
Another tool called “Solis” has taken investigation times from dark web material from three years to three weeks, Kutcher said.
He spoke knowledgeably on the issue and called for specific actions, including additional funding for the technology, fostering public-private sector relationships, looking into the pipeline for victims, including working with the foster care system and the mental health system, and differentiating solution sets for sex trafficking and labor trafficking with enforcement and legislation initiatives.
Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker called Kutcher’s work “inspirational,” and “a true testament to entrepreneurialism and people taking a risk toward social good.”
Corker, his fellow committee members, including Sens. Tim Kaine and Marco Rubio, and Kutcher all wore red X pins, a symbol calling awareness to the issue of modern slavery.
“Thankful for Ashton Kutcher and the work @thorn is doing to rescue trafficking victims. It was great to have him on the Hill today,” Corker tweeted.
The former host of “Punk’d” got political at times, speaking out on the current political climate regarding the refugee crisis.
“When people are left out, when they’re neglected, when they’re not supported, and when they’re not given the love they need to grow, it becomes an incubator for trafficking, and this refugee crisis, if we want to be serious about ending slavery, we cannot ignore them, we cannot ignore our support for this issue in that space, because otherwise, we’re going to have to deal with it for years to come,” he said.
Last month, Kutcher spoke out against President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration:
“My wife came to this country on a refugee visa in the middle of the Cold War! My blood is boiling right now!,” he tweeted, adding, “We have never been a nation built on fear. Compassion that is the root ethic of America. Our differences are fundamental 2R sustainability.”
Asked by Rubio about sites like Backpage.com that can be used to provide an internet forum for transactional sex, Kutcher said he’s been working to fight this for six years alongside sites like Craigslist and Village Voice, but when one site closes, another opens.
“It’s a game of whack-a-mole, right? And the only question we have is not relative to censoring it, it’s not relative to shutting down the internet, it’s relative to can we build the tools that are better than their tools to fight what’s happening?” Kutcher said.
The hearing wasn’t without it’s lighter moments: Sen. John McCain is not a member of the committee but came to thank its members for dedication to the issue, acknowledged the committee’s famous guest.
“Ashton, you were better looking in the movies,” McCain said.
Kutcher blew the senator a kiss, saying his wife thought so, too.