Mira* was 14 when she was lured away from her impoverished Indonesian hometown with promises of lucrative restaurant work in nearby Singapore. Instead, she was given false documents that identified her as 19 and spent two years serving wealthy Singaporeans—performing sex work in a hotel instead of the waitressing work she was promised.
Now Mira is 16 and desperately trying to start over. It's her dream to return to Indonesia and enroll in a hairdressing course. The cost for her travel, mental health care, reintegration, and vocational training is $2600.
Stories like Mira's are upsettingly common; in addition to mental and physical recovery, many victims of human trafficking face huge financial obstacles when attempting to build a life beyond modern slavery. Now there's a crowdfunding platform to help them start over called 6degree. What Kickstarter does for your friend's web series, 6degree hopes to do for the victims of human trafficking: give them hope, cash, and the chance for a fresh start.
We're used to having everything put in front of us: pictures of people suffering, of malnourished children in Africa. We've become desensitized to it. —Miranda Simpson
6degree was launched last week as a partnership between Microsoft and non-profit IOM X, the International Organization for Migration's anti-trafficking initiative. As one of the world's first crowdfunding portals explicitly designed to help you donate directly to human-trafficking victims, 6degree shares the stories of survivors through simple maps and easy-to-understand explanations.
Australian Miranda Simpson was the first person to make a donation using the site. The marketing professional chose to give to Xiao, a 23-year-old Indonesian woman forced into unpaid domestic labor and physically abused for six years before being sheltered by IOM X. Xiao is now awaiting the $1500 it will take to get her home, healthy, and into vocational training. A third of the money has already been raised via 6degree.
When helping a survivor of human trafficking is broken down into manageable sums, people see that their $25 or $50 really can make a difference. The new portal is highly reactive and users get the satisfaction of seeing their donation immediately applied to the survivor's goal sum, placing them a few steps closer to home.
To protect the identity of victims, pictures aren't used on the site. Instead, IOM X created a simple portal that crafts compelling narratives using clickable maps. The maps demonstrate each step of the victim's journey through human trafficking. All traces of sensational or exploitative storytelling are absent.
This was part of the appeal for Simpson, who told VICE, "We're used to having everything put in front of us: pictures of people suffering, of malnourished children in Africa. We've become desensitized to it. 6degree allows you to understand the stories and donate with respect for the victims."
VICE spoke with IOM X's Bangkok-based Digital Outreach Manager and a passionate advocate for the project, Mike Nedelko, about how 6degree hopes to change the lives of many.
VICE: Tell us about the concept for 6degree.
Mike Nedelko: It's a way that we can tell individual stories about survivors of human trafficking, and accept donations for them, without compromising their safety or security.
What were the biggest stumbling blocks in the project?
We couldn't use pictures of the victims because it's crucial to protect their identities. So the issue was: How can we tell these human stories in a way that would allow a user to empathize, to understand the circumstances, without revealing individual identities? Pictures are the common answer but we had to come up with an alternative. We decided to tell the stories via maps.
This allows us to tell each story using clickable locations and letting users follow the journey. Each click opens up another step in their narrative.
Do you feel like there will be a demand for more information about the victims?
In this age of information, people want access to every detail. They want images, to connect on that level. We understand that there is a desire to know the individual whose life you are affecting, but at the same time, we want to create awareness that you're contributing to very vulnerable people. If your objective is to remove them from danger, then there are certain details that you can't have in order to keep them safe.
Who do you think 6degree will appeal to?
Two groups. First, the engaged global network of anti-trafficking advocates. Second, the people who care about the issue but are less involved on a daily basis. 6degree provides them with a concrete way to take action. Trafficking is a complex, sensitive issue but we wanted to provide people with a way to feel that they are having an immediate impact and connecting with those who are living through these experiences.
There was this gap where people were passionate about this issue but felt that there was no way they could help. That's why we started working with crowdfunding. —Mike Nedelko
Why is there a need for crowdfunding for this sort of thing?
It comes down to reaching our target audience. There was this gap where people were passionate about this issue but felt that there was no way they could help. That was an opportunity we saw and why we started working with crowdfunding.
The portal solves a funding issue but also allows us to raise awareness on a larger scale. It allows contributors to connect with real stories and develop a deeper understanding of the trafficked human experience.
Do you actually put cash in the victims' hands?
No. The funds go directly to that person but are dispersed through the IOM assistance program and a case officer who is on the ground working with these individuals to help them get re-established.
Are donor names and contribution amounts on 6degree anonymous?
Yes. For the moment we want the experience of the trafficked individual to be at the center of the giving process.
How do you choose cases for 6degree?
The officers in the field recommend victims based on need. We've started small by launching with just four cases at a time but will be adding more. We want to make sure we're scaling sustainably. As each case gets funded, it will be replaced with a new one.
If crowdfunding for trafficked individuals gains traction, will we end up with competing tragedies and stories presented in an overly sensational way to get funding?
I think it relates to the kind of experience people expect from today's internet. Even if another portal opened up providing a similar service, I can't imagine IOM X would ever want to tell the stories in a different way to up the ante. With our long history of helping so many people, I think we have credibility in the field.
What's been the initial reaction to 6degree?
Great. People have said they've been waiting for something like this and sharing it on social media. It's encouraging because the potential of this for the counter-trafficking movement is huge. You don't get the opportunity to make such a direct impact on others that often in life.
* Names and some identifying details have been changed to protect the victims' identities.