Innocent Kids are in the crosshairs of Predators — but these heroes are fighting back.

Stopping Sex Traffic

More than 300,000 children are missing in America, according to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. Some youngsters who vanish are eventually found unharmed and returned to loving families, but others are not so lucky. Experts estimate at least one in every six runaways falls victim to sex traffickers. In other heartbreaking instances, some minors are pimped out by their very own relatives or caretakers. Here at Penthouse, we believe nothing surpasses the importance of protecting children, so we continue to shine a spotlight on organizations dedicated to combating the exploitation of minors and rescuing innocents from the clutches of cruel predators.

In 2009, That ’70s Show actor and investor Ashton Kutcher and then-wife Demi Moore — star of movies including Ghost and St. Elmo’s Fire — co-founded DNA Foundation, which was later renamed Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children. The California-based organization recognizes the internet plays a major role in facilitating child pornography and sexual slavery of minors — and that the vile crimes are being perpetuated on a global scale. One survey by the organization found three of every four kids who were trafficked for sex in the last decade were advertised online, and Thorn has made it their mission to harnesses technological innovation to make an impactful change.

In 2014, Thorn developed Spotlight, a product to aid the identification of child sex trafficking victims who were sold on the internet — and offered it free of charge to thousands of law enforcement offices.

Kutcher delivered impassioned testimony before Congress about modern-day slavery and his work toward ending human trafficking during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting in 2017.

“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,” he said.

Kutcher revealed Thorn’s Spotlight had helped law enforcement identify trafficking victims more quickly and narrowed down investigations on the dark web from three years to three weeks!

“Technology can be used to enable slavery, but it can also be used to disable slavery,” he said.

Thorn also developed the tool Safer, which is used by leading platforms including Vimeo, Flickr and Imgur. The product helps companies detect, remove and report child sexual abuse material (CSAM) through the use of advanced artificial intelligence technology.

Overall, Thorn’s work has identified more than 24,000 kids to date, and their dedicated staff continues their quest to help end the scourge of child traffickers.

The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking is dedicated to ending sex trafficking of all ages and genders and has offices in Tampa, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Austin.

In just one example of USIAHT’s work, the nonprofit’s alliance launched a far-reaching campaign ahead of the 2022 Super Bowl in Los Angeles. It raised awareness about trafficking crimes, distributed educational kits identifying signs of trafficking, provided training to hospitality and tourism workers, and coordinated with local law enforcement agencies. The alliance’s efforts contributed to the rescue of 70 adult victims and eight minors.

USIAHT also launched Project: Reach Out, which uses artificial intelligence technology to scour the internet for phone numbers connected to online advertisements selling sex, texts potential victims to ask if they need assistance and offers resources and/or aid if needed.

USIAHT is also behind Kids Not For Sale, which seeks to end the commercial exploitation of children in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada — and set a precedent for the rest of the U.S. Disturbingly, the organization estimates there are 5,600-plus victims of child sex trafficking in Nevada as a whole.

Sex traffickers are known to descend on U.S. cities during major events — such as the Super Bowl — to peddle victims to pervs, but experts say Las Vegas is also a regular magnet because of the area’s large tourist draw. Kids Not For Sale dedicates itself to inspiring community-based initiatives combatting and preventing the trafficking of minors for sex, changing legislation to promote harsher penalties for adult perpetrators, and providing safe homes and treatment for traumatized victims.

One of the nonprofit’s major initiatives has been advocating for the passage of Nevada’s Senate Bill 89. The proposed legislation would require sex traffickers attempting to lure minors — or law enforcement posing as children — to serve jail time. It also itemizes punishments which increase in severity based on the age of the traffickers’ targets.

“The younger the person is — or [traffickers] believe that the individual to be — the harsher the penalties,” says State Senator Heidi Seevers Gansert, of Reno’s District 15.

The bill specifically adds penalties for criminals unwittingly contacting undercover officers — closing a loophole in existing laws. Under Senate Bill 89, some sex traffickers who attempt to target kids over the internet could even face Class A felonies and automatic life sentences if found guilty.

“It’s well known that youth are lured into trafficking at a very early age, and we want to do everything we can to make sure that there are significant penalties,” says Seevers Gansert.

The bill would also double the window for applications for aid from the Victims of Crime Fund from 24 months to 48 months.

“Those funds can be used for housing, for education, for childcare, for all sorts of different things, which will help them get back on their feet,” says Seevers Gansert. “And in the end, that’s what we want. We want to make sure that they have extra time, because of the healing process.”

Person in Sex Traffic CageSex Trafficking Hurts Everyone

Children who are being sexually exploited need trusted adults to recognize the signs and report suspected abuse to the authorities. Trafficked minors may display certain physical and behavioral red flags, including:

  • Evidence of physical or sexual abuse.
  • Malnourishment, unaddressed health issues or other types of neglect.
  • Inappropriately close relationships with controlling adults.
  • Unwillingness to answer questions or letting others speak on their behalf.
  • Appearing reluctant to reveal their true identity or not in possession of their own identification.
  • Showing signs of living at a hotel or out of a suitcase or other signs of housing insecurity.
  • Tattoos of someone else’s name or initials, bar codes or currency symbols.

If you see any of those warning signs in your environment, SAY SOMETHING. It may be embarrassing to report. You may not want to get involved. But unless we all risk stepping in and standing for something important, this abuse will never go away. The children cannot help themselves, so we all must look out for them. You may be saving lives, but you will definitely be saving futures. Contact the Human Trafficking Hotline. Make a difference.

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