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Technology and Thorn Are Playing a Critical Role in Addressing Child Sexual Exploitation

December 20, 2016

4 Minute Read

The following guest post was written by Ernie Allen, a recent addition to Thorn’s Board of Directors. His leadership, dedication, inspiration and ongoing work to protect children across the globe continue to push us forward.

Throughout my career I have worked closely with technology leaders. For more than three decades I have seen the power of technology firsthand and how it has changed every aspect of our lives, including the way we search for missing children, identify those who prey upon children, and keep children safe. Yet, there is a dark side. Technology also facilitates the exploitation of children. We have to change that.

The challenge of child sexual exploitation online is massive, a problem that is underreported and underappreciated.   It is a far larger problem than any of us ever imagined. Prior to the internet, someone with sexual interest in children felt isolated, alone, aberrant. Today, he is part of a global community. He is able to interact online with people of like interests worldwide. They share images, fantasies, techniques, even real children. And they do it all with virtual anonymity.

There are limits to what governments and law enforcement can do alone. But there is no limit to what governments, law enforcement and committed private sector leaders can do together. We have to catch up. We have to innovate. Technology is a central part of the challenge, but I believe that within technology the solution resides. That is why I am so enthusiastic about the work of Thorn.

I met Thorn’s remarkable CEO, Julie Cordua many years ago while I was President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC). Among other things we worked together on the creation and implementation of Project VIC, a technology tool for law enforcement forensic analysts that enables them to triage the content, identify and prioritize images and rescue child victims more quickly. That is just one example of the unique and remarkable work the organization is doing.

During the past couple of years I have had an opportunity to continue work with Julie and others at Thorn on a variety of projects. I talked with Thorn creators Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore about their vision for the organization and learned that we shared a common conviction – if we are to maximize the overwhelmingly positive aspects of the new technologies, we have to address their unintended consequences, including their use to victimize children. And we agreed that if we failed to do that, it would jeopardize the entire global technology revolution.

Thorn is a unique organization. It has brought together a coalition of global technology leaders and is investing in research and bringing knowledge to the field regarding what works and what does not. Through the extraordinary Innovation Lab, hackathons and partnerships with the technology industry, Thorn is developing and testing prototypes, putting the successful tools into the hands of those who will use them, and then measuring their impact. It is entrepreneurial, taking a business-like approach to solving one of the world’s most daunting, complex challenges. Thorn is changing the way America and the world respond to the explosion of child sexual abuse images online, the migration of human trafficking from the streets to the internet, the emergence of the anonymous Dark Web, and so much more.

More than ever we need real leadership and innovation. It is clear to me that Thorn is a different kind of nonprofit, an entrepreneurial nonprofit whose focus is on innovation and real solutions. Their bold vision is one that I share. I believe that within technology we can find a way to eradicate child sexual abuse images from the internet, end human trafficking, solve the challenges of the anonymous Dark Web and much, much more. I am also convinced that Thorn’s technology partnerships will change the world and make every child safer.

Earlier this year I accepted their invitation to join the Thorn board and am enthusiastic about working with this remarkable organization.


About the author: Ernie Allen serves as an advisor to governments, law enforcement, technology companies and others on the digital economy, public-private partnerships and child protection. Appointed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, he chairs a global initiative to combat online child abuse and exploitation for the British Government. He is a founder and the former President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

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