Tampons against trafficking
March 7, 2015 4:03 AM   Subscribe

Pivot: A Tool to Empower Human Trafficking Victims
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.

Using Feminine Hygiene Products To Empower Victims of Human Trafficking
After working with service providers and listening to the experiences of survivors, the students learned that victims are being watched constantly, often only being left alone while they are using the bathroom. They discovered that victims of trafficking are rarely “rescued”, but typically extricate themselves.
Graduate students use design to combat human trafficking
“It has to be treated with a lot of care because as soon as you engage with that person you’re putting them at risk,” Nelson said. “We need to get them information that is critical to their well-being and deliver it in a way that they can understand and take care to not put them at risk. We had this idea about a feminine product: There’s a moment around this when a women is likely to be alone, less likely to get in trouble, and she can also think and reflect on her own situation.”
posted by Lexica (14 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
What a great program, and use of design.
posted by fermezporte at 4:25 AM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

What a clever design, I never would have thought of the fortune cookie phone number part.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 5:10 AM on March 7, 2015

So, maybe I misunderstand the actual circumstances of the victims, but this doesn't seem effective to me.

Isn't it likely to just cause the traffickers to take even more steps to isolate the victims? They say they're going to be distributed by "activists and healthcare providers". Well, the only reason this person is even able to talk to a healthcare provider, let alone an activist, is that her captor allows her to. So if this really caught on, the new normal would be even less healthcare access than in the past.

If, on the other hand, one put the phone number on billboards, or just wallpapered the world with it in whatever random ways, or distributed the number to 911 operators and spread the word to just call 911... then one would only have to deal with the lack of unsupervised access to a phone.
posted by Hizonner at 5:11 AM on March 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Publicizing this method (not here, just generally) seems like it would be counterproductive.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:29 AM on March 7, 2015 [16 favorites]

Isn't it likely to just cause the traffickers to take even more steps to isolate the victims?

That's definitely a concern for anyone looking to help, yeah. In practice, the idea is that activists and healthcare providers can provide the pads in innocuous ways; as generic health outreach teams, at flea markets or grocery stores, as free giveaways at doctor's offices, etc.

If, on the other hand, one put the phone number on billboards.

Lots of folks are doing just that, actually. The trouble with billboards is that the number can't always be written down discretely.

or distributed the number to 911 operators and spread the word to just call 911

911 is sadly not always a person's best choice. Operators may not understand what is being requested, because individuals being trafficked A) may not be at complete liberty to describe their circumstance of B) may not realize they're being trafficked. That second part may sound very strange and probably deserves its own FPP. But there it is. Also: for trafficked women whose passports and ID have been stolen--which includes many, many people--calling a service like 9-1-1 may risk deportation, which can put women and their children (and their family members elsewhere, who are often threatened as a form of blackmail) at great risk. Discretely meeting with a trafficking prevention organization instead can help women navigate the facts, myths, advantages, and risks of different escape strategies. And provide lots of other things too, of course.
posted by Avarith at 5:31 AM on March 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

This strikes me as too clever by half. Unless the packaging counterfeits real brands, word would get around quickly as to their secondary purpose.
posted by localroger at 5:34 AM on March 7, 2015

It would be interesting to see if a major manufacturer would sponsor this to make the packages look legit.

Reminds me of the US/British intelligence joint venture in WW2 to hide escape materials in board games and food canisters bound for POW camps.
posted by dr_dank at 5:41 AM on March 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

According to the original article, distribution was planned in late 2013, so we should have some idea of results by now, right? The second article notes heavy demand from organizations outside the original project's scope, so I guess we can assume some level of success?
posted by chrominance at 6:05 AM on March 7, 2015

The second article notes heavy demand from organizations outside the original project's scope, so I guess we can assume some level of success?

We can assume success at meeting organizational needs and metrics (who wouldn't want to announce distribution of anti-trafficking materials?), but that says nothing about whether or not this is effective as an approach.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:17 AM on March 7, 2015

If there was a record of success I would expect it to be reported in terms of packets distributed vs. hotline phone calls resulting vs. actual rescues resulting. It seems to me that those numbers would be less of a risk to the program's future success than publishing pictures of the fake brand.
posted by localroger at 6:30 AM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am confused by how this would work - if the trafficking victim is being monitored constantly and only has some privacy when using the washroom, how will they be safe enough to make a phonecall to the helpline without being overheard? A controlling captor would not allow the victim to carry about cellphones (which could be used in said washroom), public spaces with phonebooths are less common than they once were and cost money (plus the victim could be easily caught using it), and even a land-line in the living quarters would not be private (if there even was one in the home).

I am probably overthinking this, the women who get into these situations are very intelligent and probably already have little coping strategies to get brief moments of privacy when absolutely needed. It is good to get the information out there so they don't waste the rare precious moment alone contacting useless authorities (e.g. calling 911 which is usually drilled into people's heads as the first thing to do) that won't be helpful.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 8:00 AM on March 7, 2015

And then there's this:

A number of women and girls at risk of forced marriage have avoided going abroad by concealing spoons in their underwear at airport security, according to a campaign group.

Karma Nirvana, a Derby-based charity that supports victims of forced marriage, advises people who ring its helpline to hide a spoon in order to set off metal detectors at British airports. The group says that its recommendation has prevented some women from being spirited overseas.

posted by DreamerFi at 8:14 AM on March 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

You could leave them as freebies in restrooms, that seems like an obvious way to get them to women. Traffickers could of course fight back, but no one strategy is going to work for all circumstances.

The spoon thing is brilliant, too.
posted by emjaybee at 10:35 AM on March 7, 2015

I have seen multilingual signs in gas station bathrooms giving info and toll free numbers, with language general to labor trafficking rather than just sex, which I thought was awesome and likely to reach people in need.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:28 AM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

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