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Spreading the word: Red Means Help

Behind Portland’s coffeehouses, breweries and green buildings lurks a secret: The city is a national hub of human trafficking. Advertising students at Portland State University are teaming up with the Portland Police Bureau to build awareness and help victims escape, with a new ad campaign, “Red Means Help.”

Trafficking victims are lured to Oregon with promises of work in service industry jobs, such as farm labor, tree harvesting or domestic work. They often do not speak English and are unable to escape the watchful eye of their captors to speak out and find aid. FIR Northwest, a non-profit ad agency run by PSU students, has worked with the Portland Police Bureau to publicize a non-verbal way that trafficking victims can request help. “Red Means Help” is a simple, silent signal: Trafficking victims can can indicate their need for help by flashing anything red at a police officer or other first-responder.

“The Portland Police Bureau reached out,” says advertising student Lindsey Hoeft, who worked as art director on the project. “FIR Northwest concepted, developed and implemented the plan.” Advertisements created for the campaign will appear in six languages in areas where victims often travel, such as on public transit.

The goal for the campaign was to find a creative solution and communicate with this population, but just as important is the opportunity to gather data. “There is so little knowledge that awareness, funding, data are all virtually impossible to find,” says Hoeft.

Copywriter and fellow PSU student Matthew Bailey adds, “Moving forward, the goal is to expand the campaign to other communities in Oregon and beyond. It’s an inspiring way to use our communication skills and resources to help solve real-world problems.”

At Portland State University, we believe knowledge works best when it serves the community.