No Minor Thing

What can designers do to help combat the sexual exploitation of children? That is the question posed by What Design Can Do in collaboration with the Dutch Public Prosecutions Service (OM), the Ministry of Justice & Security in The Netherlands and the UK. STBY conducted research on the topic and created comprehensive briefs as a starting point for an invitation-only design challenge.

Child sexual exploitation happens everywhere, but it largely happens under the radar.
The victims are some of society’s most vulnerable. The perpetrators are often connected in nebulous webs of anonymity that make them particularly hard to track. The internet has added a new level of complexity. This challenge needs the valuable insights of designers who can transform abstract ideas into tangible concepts. In the No Minor Thing Challenge, selected design teams and academies received an opportunity to come up with new ways of addressing this issue. Throughout the entire process, participants have been introduced to experts and ‘problem-owners’ who can help put ideas into practice.

Unpacking Complexity Through Dialogue

As the research partners of WDCD, STBY worked on unpacking the complexity of this topic into more concrete questions that can be addressed through design. Given that the topic touches upon many different problem areas, STBY researched it by working together with diverse stakeholders and experts. With the help of the Dutch Public Prosecutions Service’s (OM) broad network we have been interviewing and co-creating the challenge briefs with over forty experts over the course of a few months. The result of our work was a comprehensive challenge kit that gave the designers the opportunity to get off to a solid start. The design of the challenge kit was done by De Designpolitie. 

Creative brainpower

Sexual exploitation concerns young males and females who, often through blackmail, are forced to provide sexual services. Most of them end up in this work without realising it. And even though it is illegal, there are enough adults who are willing to pay for these sexual services. The mental and physical harm done to children is enormous. That is why this problem calls for innovative solutions. This is definitely ‘No Minor Thing’.

Designers possess an ability to view issues from another perspective and  ‘reframe’ problems. This creative brainpower is urgently needed to deal with the subject. Furthermore, as sexual exploitation of minors happens mostly out of sight, the strength of designers to turn the invisible into noticeable is crucial.

As a starting point for their projects, the designers were presented with five different questions that define different directions for interventions, as expressed in the form of five design briefs:

1: How can parents and guardians teach every child that it is in charge of their own body?

2: How can we enhance the protection of young people online and systematically thwart those seeking to exploit them?

3: How can we help professionals to detect even the subtlest signs of sexual exploitation and to take action?

4: How can we help victims and their social environment to report sexual exploitation earlier?

5: How can we confront those directly involved in sexual exploitation with the consequences for themselves?

For different clients and partners, STBY often offers support on both content and process aspects of the innovation process. Thus in this challenge, we also guided a few collaborative sessions where the designers teamed up with relevant experts, so they could gain a better understanding of the context of this challenge, and discuss the difference they can make to this difficult reality.

An International Collaboration

To increase the impact of the challenge, ‘No Minor Thing’ has been extended to the UK. The UK Ministry of Justice took the lead and organised a design sprint, together with Design Thinkers Academy and The Royal College of Art. STBY supported the research phase of the design sprint. The results from the UK challenge have been reviewed by a panel of experts from the Netherlands and the UK. Together with the results from the Dutch challenge they will be presented at the Innovation Congress held by the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security in Rotterdam.

Being based in London and Amsterdam, allowed STBY to be a linking pin between all the different parties involved. This collaborative way of working contributed to a broader understanding of the issue, and established trust between the designers and the many experts working on this topic. A trust that is the basis for new ways of working together.

Update: Out of this challenge emerged a powerful program ‘No Place for Sex Trafficking’ that launched in 2020, and aims to provide training to hospitality services to learn the signs and how to combat sex trafficking. Read about it here.