[Project Status: Production]

(link to video ).

Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into any form of labor against their will. It can occur in any industry, including agriculture, construction, domestic service, restaurants, salons, commercial sex work, massage parlors, and small businesses, and does not necessarily involve transportation, despite its name. In collaboration with members of Washington’s anti-human trafficking community, the Studio is developing Pivot, a project to help trafficked individual connect with support services. Read the blog  >



Pivot provides rescue information to human trafficking victims without detection by their captors. Ordinary-looking sanitary pads are distributed by activists and healthcare providers to suspected victims. Hidden inside each pad is an insert with rescue information and a trafficking hotline number. A victims accesses the insert in the privacy of a restroom, detaches the phone number (disguised as a fortune-cookie tab), and flushes the rest of the insert in the toilet.

Pivot was designed as a tactical intervention that facilitates communication between human rights activists, victims, and support services. It is not a stand-alone solution to the entire problem of human trafficking; rather it offers a cost-effective mechanism to address the discrete problem of providing rescue information to victims without their captors’ knowledge. It’s primary limitation is in exclusively targeting female victims. While women make up the majority of persons traffick for sex and domestic labor, men are also trafficked, particularly for industry and agricultural work.


The product’s form is intended to support discreet, effective communication. A generic design was selected for the external packaging.



Pivot targets a specific problem in victim outreach. According to human rights advocates, human trafficking victims can only be helped when they are emotionally and physically ready to leave their captors. Simply put, most victims aren’t “rescued,” they choose to seek help. The problem that many victims face is that, once they are ready to seek help, they don’t know where to turn. At the same time, victims are usually under close scrutiny by their captors, making it difficult to carry rescue information with them. Our project provides a way for victims to discreetly keep crucial rescue information until the moment they are ready to use it. When they are ready, placing a phone call to the national hotline number provided by our product initiates an immediate response from victim support services that connects victims with housing, legal, emotional, and financial support.

This project was initiated by design graduate students and faculty at the University of Washington’s Public Practice Studio. The concept developed through collaboration with the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN), a coalition of NGOs that provide direct services to victims of human trafficking in Washington State. The product is currently in production, and will be distributed to activist and healthcare organizations in early 2013.

Mike Fretto
Kari Gaynor
Josh Nelson
Adriel Rollins
Melanie Wang
Tad Hirsch (advisor)

Other anti–human trafficking proposals

We proposed several other projects to raise public awareness or to help anti-human trafficking organizations. These projects are not actively under development, but may be groundwork for future AHT projects.

Free to the Core: Most awareness campaigns are distributed en masse, which means that each person, regardless of culture, socioeconomic background, or native language is addressed in the exact same way. Our proposal for an anti-human trafficking awareness campaign came from a participatory angle. We wanted to empower communities to craft their own message to allow them to take ownership of the issue in their own neighborhood.

Dear Johns: The world of forced prostitution is extremely difficult to access. Victims are hidden away with great care. Could we gain access to those in need of help by working with alternative groups who might already have access? By mapping the connections between the individuals, locations, and organizations involved we hoped to identify potential for future alliances. Those alliances might lead to other forms of awareness campaigns or direct outreach to trafficked individuals.

Service Provider Resource Hub: Currently, organizations involved in anti-human trafficking efforts face numerous logistical obstacles in sharing information. Information on human trafficking exists, but it is not consolidated into one database or catalog. This points to an opportunity for an online resource or “hub” where information and expertise can be catalogued and exchanged on an immediate and more flexible basis and models of success can be exchanged.

Visual Outreach: In addition to the difficulty of dispensing information to trafficked individuals, a central challenge faced by service providers is language: many trafficked individuals may not read English. This presents a unique design opportunity to approach anti-human trafficking materials from a story-telling or symbolic perspective. How effective can symbols be in communicating deep or complex abstract concepts? Can design create universal visual language to convey different scenarios in trafficking and will trafficked individuals see themselves in the icons enough to seek help?