Background: Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation” (Alexander, n.d.). As an unfortunate consequence of supply and demand, human trafficking has become the second largest global industry next to drug trafficking. In Predicting Prosocial Behavior Toward Sex-Trafficked Persons: The Roles of Empathy, Belief in a Just World, and Attitudes Toward Prostitution, authors Kristin E. Silver, Gunnur Karakurt & Sarah T. Boysen claim an understanding of human trafficking is “vital to public health, human rights, and state security”(Silver, Karakurt, & Boysen, 2015). In this project, I’m bringing together 360 degree technology, performers, and an incredible panel of human trafficking advocates and survivors in an attempt to increase our community’s awareness and understanding of human trafficking. Methods: While researching human trafficking and ways to help others better understand it, I ran across a quote by Stephanie Sandberg, director of the Stories in Blue project. She said, “We must learn methods for tapping into this power of story in order to create the empathy and education necessary to empower real and lasting change in our reality” (Sandberg, 2017). That’s when I began to explore this idea of using digital tools to tell stories, specifically immersive digital tools like 360 degree video. This exploration lead me to the creation of an event that will implement the following methodology. Immersive Storytelling: To tell a story is one thing. To immerse an audience in a story is another. With the use of 360 degree video, a 360 degree viewing room, and dance, I aim to immerse participants in a story of human trafficking. My assumption is that this immersion will evoke an empathetic response from participants. Reflection: Human trafficking is a difficult and complex issue. Because of this, I anticipate participants will need some time to reflect on what they experienced in the performance part of the event before they move on to the panel discussion. In light of this, I aim to foster healthy reflection by giving participants space to respond to questions at different stations. To ensure participants have the resources they need to reflect in a way that works best for them, there will be space for group discussion as well as individual discussion. There will also be a trauma counselor present at this event in case any of the content is triggering to participants. Discussion: As I said before, human trafficking is an extremely complex issue. For this reason, I decided to incorporate a panel discussion into this event. All of the speakers who have agreed to come and talk about their experiences with human trafficking have different perspectives on the issue. Dr. LaClaire Bouknight will provide the health care perspective. Jane White will provide the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force perspective. Laura Swanson, director of a Michigan-based human trafficking film, will provide a storytelling and advocacy perspective. And lastly, Mindy Osantowski, known as Mammabear by the children she supports, will provide the survivor perspective on human trafficking. Call to action: At the end of the event, participants will be given a resource guide to help them identify signs of human trafficking and steps they can take to combat it in their community. Following this, there will be a call to action for participants, because once you are aware of something like human trafficking, I believe you’re accountable to take action. Conclusion: Having never done something like this before, I am excited to see what will come of it. My hope is that using digital tools to bring light to injustices like human trafficking will be the first of many uses of technology in this way.
Erin is a senior studying Experience Architecture, Digital Humanities, and Spanish at Michigan State University. She is passionate about empowering people through accessible and inclusive design. Her current work explores the use of digital tools to help communities visualize others’ lived experiences in an attempt to cultivate empathy and enact systematic change.