Julie Cordua speaks on child exploitation and sexual abuse imagery


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Julie Cordua, executive director of Thorn, speaks at Stanford
Photo credit: 
Dana Phelps

Julie Cordua, executive director of Thorn, a non-profit organization founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, spoke passionately on the topic child exploitation and sexual abuse imagery for the Stanford Program on Human Rights’ Winter Speaker Series U.S Human Rights NGOs and International Human Rights on February 4, 2015.

Cordua addressed the Stanford audience about the importance of technology for acting as the “digital defenders of children." She provided a chilling account of child sexual exploitation, first describing the problem and then going on to challenge preconceived notions about it. For example, she highlighted that in order to tackle the issue, it must first be understood that it concerns a highly vulnerable population; most child victims of sexual exploitation come from extremely abusive backgrounds and many have been sexually abused by one or more parents.

Cordua emphasized that technology innovations have contributed to a proliferation of child exploitation and sexual abuse imagery through the use of encrypted networks that make it extremely difficult to hunt down perpetrators and find victims. Cordua feels that while technology is intensifying the problem, technology is also the solution.  Examples she gave were the development of algorithms that aim to track perpetrators and their victims and advertisements that encourage pedophiles to seek help.

Helen Stacy, director of the Program on Human Rights, queried Cordua on Thorn’s relationship with the government and private sector, as well as on Thorn’s approach for testing the efficacy of their programs. Cordua responded that Thorn does not apply for government funds so as to maintain independence over their projects but that they actively cultivate strong relationships with politicians and law enforcers. In relation to evaluation metrics, Cordua acknowledged that metrics are especially difficult in such a cryptic field as it is nearly impossible to know what numbers they are dealing with from the onset. Questions from the audience included effective strategies for changing the conversation of pedophilia in the public sphere, the emotional stamina required for pursuing such work, and strategies for connecting with and providing a safe platform for victims of child sexual exploitation.

Dana Phelps, Program Associate, Program on Human Rights