On Wednesday morning, Ashton Kutcher testified at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on how to put an end to modern slavery, delivering a passionate speech on child trafficking. Kutcher choked up a few times as he spoke about his work as the cofounder of Thorn, an organization that drives tech innovation to help fight the sexual exploitation of children around the world, describing some of his own experiences witnessing the horrors that this industry inflicts on children barely older than his own two kids.
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Read a moving portion of the speech below:
“I am here today to defend the right to pursue happiness. It’s a simple notion—the right to pursue happiness. It’s bestowed upon all of us by our Constitution. Every citizen of this country has the right to pursue it, and I believe that it is incumbent upon us as citizens of this nation, as Americans, to bestow that right upon others, upon each other, and upon the rest of the world. But the right to pursue happiness, for so many, is stripped away. It’s raped. It’s abused. It’s taken by force, fraud, or coercion. It is sold for the momentary happiness of another. This is about the time that I start talking about politics and the internet trolls tell me to stick to my day job.
So I’d like to talk about my day job. My day job is as the chairman and cofounder of Thorn. We build software to fight human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. That’s our core mission. My other day job is that of the 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 that it is my effort to defend their right to pursue happiness and to ensure a society and government that defends it as well. 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. I’ve met victims in 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. 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. 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 girl was being sexually abused and that content was being spread around the dark web, and she had been being abused and they had 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 potential last line of defense. That’s my day job, and I’m sticking to it….”
Kutcher continued by telling the story of a 15-year-old girl in Oklahoma who was tricked into being trafficked by a man she had met on the internet. She was returned to her family within three days thanks to the software created by Thorn. He described some of the technology that they used and celebrated the power of technology to forge a better world when used for good; made recommendations on how to continue using technology to fight child trafficking around the world; talked about how the foster care system plays into this epidemic; and highlighted the need for a better support system for those who escape child trafficking.
He ended by going back to his original point:
“Happiness can be given to no man, it must be earned. It must be earned through generosity, and through purpose. But the right to pursue it is every man’s right. And I beg of you that if you give people the right to pursue it, what you may find in return is happiness for yourself.”
Senator John McCain, who Kutcher cited as “a personal hero” of his, thanked him for his speech. And then said “Ashton, you were better looking in the movies,” to which Kutcher smiled and blew him a kiss:
You can watch the 16-minute speech in full here: