In a country that's divided on countless issues, ending modern-day slavery is something everyone can get behind, actor Ashton Kutcher said Wednesday when he testified in a hearing that U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, organized.
"I'm here today to defend the right to pursue happiness," Kutcher said. "It's a simple notion ... Every citizen of this country has the right to pursue it, and I believe that it is incumbent upon us, as citizens of this nation, as Americans, to bestow that right upon others ... But the right to pursue happiness for so many is stripped away. It's raped. It's abused. It's sold for the momentary happiness of another."
Corker, who is also chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, organized the hearing ahead of the fifth annual Shine a Light on Slavery Day, which is Feb. 23 and part of the End It Movement's efforts to bring attention to the issues.
Those at the hearing assessed the progress of efforts to end modern slavery and human trafficking internationally, including the recent enactment of authorizing legislation for the End Modern Slavery Initiative, according to Corker's office.
Kutcher is the co-founder of Thorn, an organization that uses technology to combat child sexual exploitation, and Corker said Kutcher's work is a "true testament to entrepreneurialism and people taking a risk, in this case toward a social good."
"[He] became interested just by seeing that it was occurring and felt that he could do something about it," Corker said of Kutcher.
In his testimony, Kutcher joked that when he talks politics, internet trolls tell him to get back to his day job.
So he discussed his day job, which he said involves helping lead Thorn. His other day job is as a father of two children, and he wants to help ensure a society and government that defends happiness and fights against crimes such as human trafficking.
"As part of my anti-trafficking work, I've met victims ... all across our country ... I've been on FBI raids where I've seen things that no person should ever see," he said. "I've seen video content of a child that's the same age as mine being raped by an American man that was a sex tourist in Cambodia."
He also told a story about an American girl who met someone online and ended up being sold for sex. The girl was found within three days, thanks to a tool that Kutcher's organization created.
"It's a tool that can be used by law enforcement to prioritize their case load," he said. "It's a neural [network]. It gets better over time. It gets more efficient as people use it, and it's working."
According to his testimony, the technology has reduced investigative times by as much as 60 percent while helping to identify more than 6,000 trafficking victims in the U.S., 2,000 of whom were minors, and more than 2,200 traffickers within the past year.
Kutcher thanked Corker and the rest of the committee for their work on this issue.
"I applaud you ... and I believe in you," he said.
Two years ago, with input from stakeholders and industry experts, Corker proposed a bipartisan initiative to end modern slavery. The effort was designed to leverage limited foreign-aid funds, and draw support and investment from the public and private sectors, as well as philanthropic organizations, and focus resources where crime is most prevalent.
In December, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation that included authorizing language for the initiative.
This week's hearing was an examination of the progress on efforts to end modern slavery and human trafficking.
"We are at a historic turning point in the global fight to end modern slavery, thanks to the incredible efforts of so many committed individuals, faith-based groups and aid organizations throughout the U.S. and around the world," Corker said.