U-District

UW students using feminine napkins to fight human trafficking

UW students using feminine napkins to fight human trafficking »Play Video
SEATTLE -- Washington is a hot spot for human trafficking, and some University of Washington graduate students have developed an unusual way to help victims of what they call "modern day slavery."

Human trafficking is a crime that's plagued 18 counties in Washington, and the challenge authorities face is finding ways to reach those housekeepers, agricultural workers, prostitutes and nannies to let them know that help is available without putting them in danger.

Groups fighting human trafficking have tried everything from hosting conferences to posting fliers and posters in Department of Transportation rest stops and on buses in an attempt to reach people who are being forced to work against their will.

A group of UW grad students took a class on using design to create social change, and they came up with some unique ways to combat trafficking.

Most victims of human tracking are constantly watched and never allowed to go anywhere by themselves, and that was the first issue the students needed to tackle.

"So we started thinking, what are some secretive ways we could distribute that information?" said student Melanie Wang.

Band aids and phone cards were two of the first ideas tossed around, but then they came up with something a little outside-the-box: They decided to hide messages inside feminine napkins.

"This one is for agricultural workers," Wang said. "It has a question: 'Are you being forced to work?'"

The students worked with members of the an anti-trafficking group called WARN-Washington to find the safest, most confidential way to tell victims that help is out there.

Because they're generally used in private situations and wouldn't attract attention, the group decided the pads were the best solution.

Each pad contains a tear-away hotline number, and the message itself is printed on flushable paper.

"They can throw it away and be completely safe in not being caught," Wang said. "If an abuser or trafficker finds the victim with that, it could lead to very violent and harsh consequences for the potential victim."

The students won two awards for their idea, which gave them the money to have thousands of the pads printed up. WARN is now distributing them throughout the state.

The students, who have all now graduated, hope to raise enough money to take the campaign national.