Operation Compass is a 501(c)3 that was a result of the research conducted for my master’s thesis while working toward my Masters of Fine Arts in Design Research at the University of North Texas. The purpose of my research was to propose a successful integration of technology into the humanitarian challenge of combating human trafficking.
When I first started to learn about human trafficking I was pretty naïve to the intricacies of helping a victim. I had some pretty grand ideas of the different types of technology I could create with my background as an interaction designer, however after doing some secondary research, gathering both qualitative and quantitative data, I realized this was the wrong approach to helping victims. Some victims may not even see themselves as such and others may see no other way of living as an option. The definition of human trafficking used in this study comes from the first global legally binding definition defined by the United Nations in 2003:
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude and the removal of organs (Trafficking in Persons Protocol, article 3 (a)).
One of the leading non-profits in the fight against human trafficking report truck stops as a common venues for human trafficking in the United States. Truck stops are a common venue due to their remote locations and lax security. Many victims are transported from one truck stop to another with stays lasting two to three weeks at each stop (Polaris, TruckDriving.pdf). Given this reality, the 3.5 million professional truck drivers traveling the US highways are in a unique position to provide information to help this particular group of victims of human trafficking. In 2013 the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline received approximately 32,000 reports, of which only 300 identified themselves as truck drivers. This fact prompted me to ask, why? And how could this number be increased? Would some form of integrated technology allow truck drivers to report incidents of human trafficking at a higher rate?
I divided my research into two phases in order to highlight the different factors and major themes derived from the exploratory research and to explore how those factors influenced the prototype. Phase 1 focused on the exploratory framework, which included secondary research, primary research, and field site observations. Phase 2 focused on prototype development, some secondary research, primary research, and the user-group framework.
My contextual research, based on my prior qualitative study, sought to: analyze how truck drivers engage in everyday activities while working and understand how extant or emerging technology could encourage higher levels of trafficking reports. My investigation was broadly framed by grounded theory and activity theory research methods. To gain a better understanding of how truck drivers operate while on the road and how technology would naturally integrate into their activities, I observed students and trainers at a truck driver training school, observed patrons behaviors at truck stops, and conducted one-on-one interviews.
These interviewees often focused on three themes, safety, technology and how to identify human trafficking.