Pivot: A Tool to Empower Human Trafficking Victims

University of WashingtonUS


Production / Student


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


Human trafficking affects 20-30 million victims worldwide. Over 70% of these are women who are forced to work in factories, farms, homes, and brothels around the world. In the United States, hundreds of thousands of minors are considered to be at-risk for commercial sexual exploitation. Victims are rarely “rescued” from trafficking. Most survivors extricate themselves, and are immediately dependent on a variety of support services for housing, medical attention, and emotional care.

In Washington State, an advocacy organization called The Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN) has helped to establish a hotline service that promises to connect victims with vital services within 24 hours, anywhere in the state. WARN is part of the Polaris Project’s National Human Trafficking Resource Center, a nationwide network of organizations providing services to human trafficking victims.

Among WARN’s biggest challenges is outreach — letting victims know about the hotline, and enabling victims to able access it when they are ready to emancipate themselves. They must inform victims of their rights and direct them to emergency services in memorable ways that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, and which don’t arouse captors’ suspicions. Pivot addresses this need by enabling rescue workers to surreptitiously communicate directly with victims.


We worked closely with WARN to understand the challenges that they in reaching victims and providing services. WARN’s staff also helped us to understand victims’ lives – how they come to be trafficked, what daily life is like while in captivity, and under what conditions they become ready and able to rescue themselves. Based on these insights, we identified environments, including health clinics and community centers, when victims routinely come into contact with service providers who can offer them information about legal rights and emergency services.

We also identified everyday activities, like attending to basic bodily needs, when victims typically escape their captors’ scrutiny. During these moments, victims may be more free to access and even act on rescue information.

Against these contexts and activities, we mapped everyday objects that victims are likely to encounter. Using or possessing these objects, which include personal hygiene products, doesn’t ordinarily raise captors’ suspicions. Accordingly, they are good vehicles for surreptitiously delivering messages.

By considering various combinations of everyday environments, activities, and products in light of our partners’ deep expertise about victims’ experience, we identified upon a novel and potent solution space.


Pivot offers an innovative and cost-effective solution to the problem of providing rescue information to victims of human trafficking. According to Kathleen Morris, Program Officer with WARN, the design team’s close partnership with emergency service providers sets Pivot apart from other anti-trafficking design initiatives. As she says, “Because the Pivot project team was so focused on being informed by service providers and by the experiences that survivors have shared, we think it can be incredibly successful at reaching vulnerable people in ways that are safe for them and can really provide them with access [to support services].”

Earlier this year, 1000 pads were given to anti-trafficking organizations for distribution to potential victims across Washington State. While it is difficult to gauge the project’s impact for victims, the benefit to service providers is clear. Since the project was announced, we have been contacted by organizations across the country including healthcare providers, educators, community groups, and anti-trafficking advocates who are interested in incorporating the pads into their work. According to these partners, a big part of Pivot’s appeal is its ability to integrate seamlessly into such existing service activities as providing basic medical care and the free distribution of personal hygiene products.


Close collaboration with service providers provided insights about victims’ experiences that drove this project.
Design focused on the need to provide meaningful, actionable information to victims while avoiding detection by captors. Rescue information was printed on flushable, water-soluble paper for easy and safe disposal. Hotline numbers were provided on perforated tabs disguised as fortune cookie inserts that could be hidden in a pocket or handbag until the victim was ready to call for assistance.

Victims are engaged in many kinds of labor and speak many different languages. We focused on situations and languages our partners identified as highest priority. Different versions were produced addressing agricultural, domestic, and sex work. English and Spanish language versions were developed. To address literacy concerns, information was presented in a comic-strip format that featured bold graphic imagery and simple language.

We had to develop supply and distribution chains to realize this project. We worked with a packing company to insert printed materials into sealed, generic feminine hygiene products. We also developed a network of service providers, including health clinics, community centers, and advocacy organizations that routinely hand out sanitary pads to at-risk population to distribute our products to potential victims.


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