Thorn: Using Technology to Combat Trafficking

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I’m a big fan of the Internet. Without it, you wouldn’t be reading this, we wouldn’t be able to stay connected to far-off friends, and learning would be less accessible to the world. (Granted, sometimes with great power comes great procrastination. Am I right, fellow college students?) However, within the Internet’s unlimited chambers, there lies something more nefarious--a thriving market for the exploitation of children.

In the United States, the Internet is THE largest marketplace where children are bought and sold, with online classified sites bulging and over 100,000 escort ads posted daily, too many representing children. A surveyed 63% of child sex trafficking survivors were advertised online at some point during their trafficking situations. The United States is the #1 producer of child pornography in the world. How hideous that this resides under the surface of the Web.

Enter Thorn. Thorn is a global organization that addresses the role that technology plays in the facilitation of child sexual exploitation everywhere by using technology to fight back. Not only does the organization research perpetrators of exploitation and trafficking, but they build technology and partner with major technology firms and government agencies to make an even bigger impact. As thorns protect their roses, so Thorn and other organizations have the unified goal of defending our world’s children.

Thorn researchers have found that text message is the primary method of communication for trafficking victims while under careful scrutiny by their captors. As a result, one example of the work they have done is the joint project BEFREE with Twilio--a cloud communications platform--to create a messaging shortcode that victims and witnesses of sexual exploitation can text to discreetly alert for help. From its launch, in 2013, over 5500 text conversations have been generated.

Another example is a Web tool created by Thorn called Spotlight, which is being used in all 50 states. Law enforcement does not have the time or manpower it requires to have thorough and effective navigation through the online trafficking marketplace. Spotlight helps sift through the massive amounts of data to quickly identify victims and locate them and their traffickers. In 12 months between 2015 and 2016, reports show that Spotlight helped to identify an average of 5 children per day and to create 60% time savings for law enforcement.


Film and television personalities, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, are passionate advocates in the fight against human trafficking and actually co-founded Thorn back in 2009. They have invested much of their time into producing more and more results from this organization and raising awareness about the issue. “This was something we were prepared to take on, even if it meant the rest of our lives,” says Moore, and she acknowledges that it’s currently a less visible issue than it should be.

Earlier this year, Kutcher testified powerfully before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying, “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.


Thorn offers unique solutions to a unique problem. They do good with what they have and encourage everyone to do the same. Their tagline is “Your skill is your superpower”--how incredible is that?

Readers, you can get involved both directly and indirectly with Thorn in ways such as giving financial gifts, keeping educated and current with their updates, and sharing information and tips with others. However, they also extend their suggestions to lending your own superpowers--maybe time and talent--to fill the needs for both technical and non-technical volunteers, sharing technology access with the Thorn professionals, or even stepping up as an entire company or nonprofit to partner with a bigger team.

Whether you partner with Thorn, Dressember, or with any combination of movements and organizations in between, follow Thorn’s lead and do good with what you have. The millions of exploited children and adults out there need you to take those steps. It’s non-negotiable. What’s your superpower?

Find out more about how Thorn is using the internet to become digital defenders of children by visiting their website and watching this powerful video below.

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About the Author

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Chynna Terrell is an ENFJ studying English Literature at the University of Oklahoma (boomer!).  Aside from trying not to think about being a senior, she is president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and is excited to participate again and write for Dressember. And, why yes, she would love to have you over for a hot cup of tea, a puzzle, and good conversation.