Our work does not exist in isolation — we rely on strong relationships with a broad ecosystem of partners, all of whom share our dedication to defending children from sexual abuse. Our initiative to eliminate child sexual abuse material (child pornography) from the internet is only possible in collaboration with law enforcement, the tech industry, NGOs, donors, and most integrally, the survivor community. This month, our Scale of the Problem blog series will introduce you to the individuals who are working with Thorn to make this goal a reality.
Meet Thorn’s Head of Product Management, Kristin Boorse
Thorn didn’t always know that we would grow up to be a product organization. But when our mission to protect children from sexual abuse led us to technology development, we embraced the role wholeheartedly. Kristin leads Thorn’s product decisions and ensures that each one is driven by how we can best serve the children at the center of our mission.
In 2015, I was working at a web fraud detection company, when Thorn CEO, Julie Cordua, sought out our assistance on a cold case. Thorn was working with law enforcement on a case involving hundreds of abuse images of a young girl that had been shared online, looking for any clues that could help pinpoint her location. But the technology to find her wasn’t being used for that purpose. We didn’t have the information Thorn was seeking at the time, but I was gripped by their mission and the story of the young girl. Knowing that she still hadn’t been found stuck with me.
Thorn was in the early stages of becoming a product organization, they just didn’t know it yet. Seeking to understand sex trafficking, Thorn conducted a survivor survey and interviewed human trafficking investigators. With these two sources, we asked ourselves “what if the data we needed to find these kids already existed? What if our goal was to start listening, and aggregate that information in a way a law enforcement officer could use?“ Soon after, Thorn built Spotlight, a victim identification tool to fight child sex trafficking that became extremely effective in reducing investigation time by doing exactly that. Though the original intent was to hand Spotlight off to law enforcement once developed, it became apparent that within the ecosystem of organizations already working to defend children – no one entity had the technical knowledge or bandwidth to maintain it.
That’s when Thorn became a product organization.
Thorn realized that to continue to bring the best technology to bear on behalf of these children, it would need to be both a nonprofit and a tech startup. It was only when I ran into Julie at an event the following year that we began to talk in depth about how Thorn could develop their product capabilities, and all of the weight I’d been carrying thinking about this cold case began to be a guiding light, an energy that would drive me and this mission forward. My work began in earnest.
I started diving deep and soon learned the realities of child sexual abuse — that it is underreported and often when a child has disclosed, they are not believed. This blew my mind. We had so much work to do, and I believed deeply that we could change this reality. This set me on a path to put technology to work on their behalf.
Over the past three years I have been honored to work alongside a force you will never see — officers from Asia, Europe, Central America and beyond, looking for every single child. Knowing that putting the latest tech in their hands results in helping them shorten the time it takes to identify and locate children, makes every obstacle we’ve worked to overcome worthwhile. While we don’t work for the same organization or live in the same country, we are on the same team. And and we have each other’s back
Partnerships make our work possible and inspire us to push further.
Though the work can be challenging, I am inspired every day by the women and men who can’t unsee the abuse. The investigators who see the worst of humanity, but continue to be relentless in their pursuit of finding these children and their abusers. Their resolve is unparalleled, and they bring equal passion to the search for every child. Without their tireless spirit and constant guidance, we may never have been pushed down the path to developing products in the first place.
If I’ve learned anything about these crimes over the past three years it’s that this issue requires a global coordinated response, it is child sexual abuse. There isn’t a single agency, company, or NGO that can address it individually. Each partner in this process has a distinct role to play — from technology to investigations to victim support services. There is no such thing as someone else’s child.
And that gives me hope. Our partners have collaborated across company lines, across jurisdictions, and across borders on behalf of kids who are unable to be heard. They’ve put our technology to use to locate kids across the world and set them on a path for a better future. Our tools will continue to get better because of the community that is lending their expertise and putting them to use. What we’re working on today will set us on a path to prevent the abuse from ever occurring to begin with.
We’re thankful for partners who are working beside us on behalf of vulnerable kids. Next up, hear from two members of law enforcement investigating child sexual exploitation on the front lines.
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Updated post — originally posted on April 4, 2019.