Online child sexual abuse is an invisible global emergency. In recent years, there’s been a dramatic increase in volume and severity of abuse, as well as in access to content, with reports of abuse material in the US alone rising from 450,000 per year in 2004 to 44 million in 2018. Perpetrators of online child abuse benefit from unfettered access to advanced technology, and they’re often steps ahead of law enforcement and tech companies’ siloed efforts to eliminate this content. Victims of this increasingly violent abuse are voiceless and the continuous circulation of content only prolongs their victimization.
Thorn is the nonprofit leader in the fight to protect children online. They build and scale technological tools in partnership with frontline responders across the tech industry, law enforcement and government. With the support of The Audacious Project, Thorn will arm responders around the world with the technology and data they need to rescue children faster, reduce the amount of abuse material produced and swiftly end its viral distribution. The goal: to transform our society’s antiquated response to online child sexual abuse and finally eliminate it from the internet.
Currently, when a new child’s abuse material is published online, it can take days to years for that content to be identified by responders. Thorn will work to drive data collaboration so that critical information is shared as widely as possible in the best interest of the child. Every image and video has a hash — effectively a digital fingerprint — which provides a reliable way to follow and track images and videos as they reappear. By building larger data sets of known abuse images, Thorn’s existing software will be able to begin identifying new material in seconds — and open the door to eliminating it from the open web altogether. These efforts can result in a tide-turning moment, finally giving frontline responders the advantage over perpetrators of abuse.
Thorn has already begun to tip the balance in the fight against online child sexual abuse. To date, Thorn’s products have helped identify more than 10,000 child victims, and when used regularly, they reduce investigative time by more than 60%. Thorn’s technology is being used by more than 8,000 officers across 2,000 law enforcement agencies in 35 countries and is in demand by others. With such a robust community of users already in place, new tools from Thorn can promote collaboration and action between the groups best positioned to end online child abuse. Thorn also recognizes that reducing the supply may not be enough to decrease demand, which is why their online deterrence intervention has already reached more than 2.6 million people and prompted more than 150,000 help actions. Their work in this arena is an essential part of their efforts to halt the spread of abusive sexual imagery.
Julie Cordua is the CEO of Thorn. She began her career in global wireless technology — helping to launch the Motorola RAZR and helping to create HELIO, a wireless joint venture between South Korea Telecom and EarthLink. She went on to be part of the founding team at (RED), a social enterprise that engaged the private sector in raising money to fund AIDS medicine for those with HIV/AIDS in Africa. Julie has grown Thorn from its inception and uses her 20 years of experience in technology development and social enterprise to inform its groundbreaking approach.
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