By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK, Feb 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hollywood actor and tech investor Ashton Kutcher urged U.S. legislators on Wednesday to drum up government support for the development of new technology to fight online sex trafficking.
Kutcher's comments to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee follows heightened scrutiny of classified advertising websites such as Backpage.com for carrying ads that offer children for commercial sex.
"Technology can be used to enable slavery, but it can also be used to disable slavery," said Kutcher.
He spoke as chairman of Thorn, a tech non-profit that has produced web-based tools to help police officers identify and locate victims of trafficking.
The "Spotlight" tool, which Kutcher said has helped identify 6,000 victims in six months, was created after a 2012 sex trafficking survey found that 63 percent of underage victims reported being bought or sold online.
Kutcher, who is married to actress Mila Kunis and has two children, said becoming a parent had propelled his crusade against trafficking.
"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," said the 39-year-old actor.
Each year, up to 300,000 children are at risk of being trafficked for commercial sex in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Most sex trafficking victims are advertised or sold online, according to a U.S. Senate subcommittee report that was released last month.
Backpage.com was hit last week with the latest in a string of lawsuits that accuse the company of promoting sex trafficking by running and rewriting ads that offer children for commercial sex.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Katie Nguyen and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)