University of Washington Students Design to Combat Human Trafficking

A female victim of forced labor — whether in agricultural, sexual, or another form of bondage -— has a few moments of privacy in the bathroom. She opens a sanitary pad, a seemingly normal item used in everyday life, an object a trafficker would likely not deem threatening. However, tucked within the package is a means of escape: a number, disguised as a fortune-cookie tab, she can call to seek out help and free herself from slavery. And after she leaves the restroom, the rest of the product is flushed down the toilet due to it being printed on water-soluble paper, while she now has been given the resources to transform her life.

Five University of Washington graduate students in the school of art’s division of design have used the innovation of design to turn such an idea into reality and combat human trafficking. The Pivot Project, named for its role as a pivotal point in the lives of victims, was created to combine design with social change and make an impact for those experiencing forced servitude.

“Washington state is actually deeply entrenched in the whole area of human trafficking because we’re a gateway state since we’re on the coast, Canada is bordering us, and there is a major metropolitan area,” said Kari Gaynor, one of the design students who created the project. “We chose to focus on trafficking since it’s such an atrocious crime, and design isn’t really being used in that area to address it.” The other students involved in the project are Josh Nelson, Melanie Wang, Mike Fretto, and Adriel Rollins.

The Pivot Project is using their message to target two specific trafficked groups: people forced into prostitution and people forced into agricultural trafficking. Their messages have been printed in both English and Spanish and incorporate language and images that evokes trust to encourage victims to call the number. 

Due to their efforts, the Pivot Project won the 2013 Design Ignites Change Idea Award and is also a finalist in the Industrial Designers Society of America’s IDEA competition.

The team used the money from the award to start producing the sanitary pads on a larger scale and begin distribution. 

Learn more at Nicole Einbinder’s The Daily of the University of Washington article: Graduate students use design to combat human trafficking.


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