Written by STOPP Website Staff (04/30/2020)
Thorn is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2012 by actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore
after they watched a documentary that highlighted what was happening to children in Cambodia. They
soon learned that sex trafficking of children was happening here in the United States as well. Thorn’s
focus has been on innovation of technological means to ending online child sexual abuse.
Thorn’s CEO, Julie Cordua, just released a timely statement regarding what Thorn is learning about the
impact of COVID-19 on worldwide sex trafficking and on our efforts to combat it. The following
information is pertinent to all who work in the field and is taken directly from Ms. Cordua’a letter.
What Thorn is Learning
Thorn has worked among law enforcement, technological industry and NGOs for 8 years and so Thorn is
in a unique position to recognize trends across multiple child protection participants. Here is what
Thorn is seeing.
COVID-19 has aggravated an already stressed Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) reporting pipeline.
Detecting and removing Child Sexual Abuse Materials from the web relies on:
- Tech companies that detect abuse content on their platforms, and on moderators who triage
and report them to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMRC). Given
social distancing due to the pandemic, many content moderators are furloughed or are working
from home, where they are unable to review abuse content, meaning more unfiltered reports
are passing down the pipeline.
- Demand for child sex trafficking is holding steady and may be taking new forms. What Thorn
has noticed on online escort sites – where children are often purchased for sex – is a 60%
reduction in massage parlor ads, with most of them having been closed by local and state
governments, but minimal sustained decrease in other ads for sex. Thorn has also heard of
vulnerable kids using technology, such as live streaming, for survival income.
- Thorn has also seen an increase in online interest in search terms related to child sexual
exploitation. For years, Thorn has run a search deterrence program that intercepts people
searching for CSAM on the web and directs them to help resources. Since March 1, 2020, Thorn
has seen a 19% increase in deterrence keyword traffic. They cannot yet determine whether this
is due to offenders or other researchers, but they are increasing their presence to deliver
- Thorn is trying to hypothesize what the “new normal” will be. With more children and adults
online during this period of social distancing, they are watching closely for a potential increase
in online grooming and sexual exploitation. They are expecting that these already increasing
threats will continue to grow. Live-streaming abuse is also on the rise.
What is Thorn’s Response?
Thorn states that they are responding to immediate needs by prioritizing and fast tracking their work in
four main areas.
- Thorn is improving automated content moderation. They are using technology to
prioritize the most urgent cases and are training more moderators and AI to identify and
report CSAM. Not only will these tools save lives now, but they will permanently improve
the reporting systems for the future.
- Thorn is increasing the efficiency of trafficking investigations through their law
enforcement tools. Thorn’s tools have already reduced investigative time by 60% and they
are working to improve their effectiveness.
- Thorn is continuing to deploy its search deterrence program and they are seeing an
increase in individuals connecting to the help resources that they provide. Thorn is also
working to get resources in front of increasing numbers of children at home, who may be
more vulnerable or isolated from their usual support networks.
- Thorn is innovating in important areas like live-streaming and grooming.
Also, see our blog that is listed on 12/20/2017 below to watch Ashton Kutcher describe to Congress
Thorn’s technology that is helping law enforcement to identify and locate children being trafficked for
sex on the web.
Thorn was founded to keep children safer online. You can follow Thorn’s work as they share updates,
resources and tools. On their website, you can register your email address.
For General Inquiries: wearethorn.org