Introducing our 2018/2019 Grant Partner: thorn



This year, Dressember is proud to partner with Thorn, an organization that uses technology to combat child sex trafficking. The internet has become a widely used place for sex traffickers to advertise. The good news is, this can help investigators track down traffickers. The bad news is that law enforcement just doesn’t have the time, energy, or manpower to efficiently pursue the information available online. That's where Thorn comes in.

Thorn has created a program called Spotlight. Spotlight is a web tool used by law enforcement agencies to more efficiently search the internet for victim and trafficker information. Kelbi Ervin, Development Associate at Thorn, works with a team to develop partnerships and identify funding opportunities to sustain Thorn's work. We reached out to her for more information about Spotlight.


"Spotlight was designed based on insights from our first survivor survey. In 2012, we learned that 75% of child sex trafficking victims were being bought and sold online. With over 150,000 ads posted online every day, we know that law enforcement doesn’t have enough time to navigate the online commercial sex market to find children and identify their traffickers.

Our team built and launched Spotlight in 2014 to improve investigator workflow to find child victims faster. To date, Spotlight has helped officers reduce investigative time by up to 65% and has helped identify 18,119 trafficking victims (including 5,791 children) and 6,553 traffickers."

updated spotlight.png

In a YouTube video describing Thorn’s use of technology to fight child pornography and sex trafficking, Thorn Co-founder Ashton Kutcher said, “We have to stay on the front cutting edge of that technology, because the criminals, they’re on the front cutting edge.”

I asked Kelbi what challenges Spotlight faces in keeping at the front of the technological curve. She shared, "Maintaining any technology product is always challenging because technology is constantly changing. Our team continues to monitor new and emerging trends that will help make sure our tool remains relevant for investigators to do their jobs efficiently and ultimately help the kids we serve."

Watch the full testimony  here .

Watch the full testimony here.

In addition to the task of staying technologically relevant, Thorn faces another significant challenge: fundraising. At Dressember, we release a line of dresses each year, but those products are sold. Similarly, The Tote Project, sells their bags, which helps them pay expenses. Spotlight, on the other hand, is a complex piece of software that doesn't have any sales to help fund its production. Kelbi writes, "We are philanthropically funded, which means that donations and grants like yours directly fund our products that we provide to law enforcement for free."

Spotlight was made to combat a difficult problem, and the data Spotlight handles is unsettling to say the least. But Thorn stays positive in the midst of engaging directly with such data. "Day to day, we strive to balance hard work with care for ourselves and each other so that we have the resiliency we need to keep fighting," Kelbi writes, "At Thorn, we are invested in a team wellness plan where we carve out time to discuss how we’re feeling and how we’re approaching our work. We couldn’t recommend it more — taking time away from what is hard helps us all sustain our efforts to achieve our goals."

When I asked if Spotlight was available to law enforcement in other countries, Kelbi said no, not yet, "But we‘re constantly evaluating the landscape to understand where it can have impact internationally as well."

How can people reading this help Thorn fight against child sex trafficking?

Kelbi had this to say:

"Fighting human trafficking starts where you live. You can have your biggest impact in the community where you live – that’s where you know the most about the environment, the opportunities, the dangers. There are many things you can do right now to get started in your community to support local survivor organizations."


Raise your voice against slavery this December!

Commit to wearing a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, expand your knowledge on modern slavery, and be equipped to lead your community in the fight to end human trafficking. Registration is open for Dressember 2018 and fundraising has already started! Be a part of the impact for our local and global partners by creating your campaign page today!

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 3.30.33 pm.png

About the Author

Lucas Moore.png

Lucas Moore is a writer in Los Angeles. He likes Neo-noir films, running and cycling, classic American novels, small venue music shows, and burritos.