Redesigned Product Fights Human Trafficking

Working to help save victims of human trafficking, a group of University of Washington graduate students also won two prestigious national design awards for their efforts and hope to raise money to help even more people.

Kari Gaynor, Josh Nelson, Melanie Wang, Mike Fretto and Adriel Rollins – along with Tad Hirsch, a UW assistant professor of interaction design – designed bilingual, easy-to-read information on flushable paper, and tucked it inside a feminine napkin in individually sealed boxes. The victim hotline number can be torn off and is disguised as something else, so if an abuser finds it, it won’t attract attention. Victims can then flush away the other information, but hide the hotline number in their pocket without arousing suspicion.

“The vast majority of human-trafficking victims are women,” Hirsch said. “A sanitary pad is the kind of product that’s innocuous. It’s sealed, and when you open it, you’re probably alone.”

The group partnered with Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network, (WARN) to distribute 1,000 sanitary pads to vulnerable populations. Exactly how and where they distribute them is confidential to protect the victims who may use the products. Hirsch has been contacted by organizations across the country interested in distributing the sanitary pads.

The Industrial Designers Society of America awarded the group a Gold Industrial Design Excellence Award as well as its top prize, the Design Ignites Change Ideas Award, along with $1,000 that the team used to manufacture the first batch of 1,000 sanitary pads and information sheets.

“I call it socially engaged design. We have this strong desire that the work we do is actually out in the world and making change in a real way,” Hirsch said. “I hope that after opening up one of our sanitary pads, someone is able to change her life. If we distribute 20,000 or 30,000 pads and save one life, I call that a success.”

Learn more at Doree Armstrong’s University of Washington article: Redesigned feminine hygiene product tackles problem of human trafficking.

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