Virtual Reality Helping Combat Human Trafficking
Updated: Jun 16
Founder and CEO of Do Good Artist Iris Cole shares her thoughts about Unseen, Do Good Artist’s virtual reality experience that raises awareness about human trafficking.
How did Unseen come about?
Two years ago, I went to research how gaming had become an economic development driver in Raleigh, NC. On that trip, I met with various stakeholders and explained that I was interested in not only the gaming industry and its potential for job creation, but also its potential for social change. This led to an invitation to explore that potential with students from NC State University and eventually led to the prototype of Unseen.
Why virtual reality? Putting virtual reality and human trafficking together seems strange and potentially scary.
Virtual reality is one of the best empathy-building tools that we have at our disposal. When you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and live their experience, you start to care more. We want people to care about this issue, to understand that this is happening to a person, maybe even someone they know, maybe even to them and they don’t realize it. While we have taken every precaution to not sensationalize the issue, we feel we have created something authentic enough that people can learn and that has broad applicability (from youth to law enforcement and business training).
People are interested in the technology and just trying it out, which then engages them in a topic that they might not have had interest in learning about. We can also reach people where they are, particularly youth, playing videogames. Unfortunately, traffickers are targeting people online, through ads, social media, and games. We want to use this technology in a way that combats that.
Is Unseen about someone’s real story?
It is not about one person’s story, but rather a conglomerate look at what human trafficking is and how it presents itself via a journey through various people’s stories. The stories and memories are based on both primary and secondary research, as well as real-life scenarios. In addition, the warehouse is not meant to represent a specific location. Rather, it’s meant to represent that human trafficking is happening right in front of our eyes, within businesses that we interact with. Each room within the warehouse shows different sectors and places in which trafficking occurs and provides the user with different contexts.
Who is Unseen for, and how do I get access to it?
Unseen is for any organization that wants to expose, educate, or train about human trafficking: including government, law enforcement, medical, hospitality, high schools/universities, non-profits, businesses (employees/supply chain), etc.
Unseen is set to launch in the fall of 2019. It has been demonstrated during special engagements at the 2019 RiverRun International Film Festival and World Without Exploitation convening in Washington D.C. If you are interested in more information or using Unseen in your organization, please contact us through this link. https://www.dogoodartist.com/unseen
What have you seen as outcomes of people interacting with Unseen?
What happened with the students was, for me, an amazing outcome. Due to their participation in Unseen’s creation, I saw coders see themselves for the first time as creatives; and creatives see themselves as agents for social change…through something tangible using their particular skills for good. I also saw some of them engage in the fight against human trafficking outside of the project.
I’ve witnessed people and professionals highly enthused about Unseen’s potential to raise awareness, as well as people walk away from the experience impacted and having learned a lot. It’s doing what we had intended it to.
I’ve also been humbled by survivors who have experienced it and sat with me to share their stories. We’ve designed Unseen in a way that we can easily add additional content. Survivors have offered their perspectives, which we can integrate without putting them at risk.
What do you hope to achieve with Unseen?
I have so many hopes for Unseen. I hope that it will become a really valuable tool for organizations to use for prevention and identification, helping save lives because someone was more equipped to identify human trafficking and know how to help.
A portion of what people invest to use Unseen will be directed to supporting non-profit organizations that are on the front lines of human trafficking.
While I wish it wasn’t necessary, I hope that more people will engage in the fight against human trafficking, whether supporting an organization that works to end trafficking or that supports survivors, or helps to get the message out that this is happening everywhere…because it is. I also hope that it will lessen demand, as that is one of the main issues that leads to the problem in the first place.
On another front, as Do Good Artist continues to grow, we hope to provide training and job opportunities for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence, which in addition to housing is something that is vital for them as they look towards the future.