Students devise innovative design to soothe trafficking survivors’ anxiety

Students assist trafficking survivors

April 29, 2024

By Beatrice Johnson with Julianne Will

At Convent of the Sacred Heart girls school on New York City’s Upper East Side, an advanced computer science class has been supporting survivors of human trafficking in an unconventional way. Led by Lauren Mitchell, upper school science teacher and director of the school’s makerspace collaborative workspace, the seniors were tasked with creating a physical product that can aid a nonprofit organization and present it to a panel of judges. This year the students chose to support LifeWay Network with their year-long project. 

Understanding a survivor’s struggle

The group began the school year with research and brainstorming. They learned about LifeWay’s mission and what we do; a presentation by LifeWay Director of Education Josephine Crisostomo furthered their understanding. Students also spoke with survivors in our safe housing program, one of the only programs in the New York metro area providing safe housing specifically for both domestic and foreign-born women survivors of human trafficking. They heard firsthand about survivors’ day-to-day lives and experiences, both to help decide upon a product and, more importantly, to make sure that it would be useful to survivors. 

Next, the group came up with two ideas and developed prototypes that they sent to a software engineer for feedback. Their first concept was a stoplight of sorts to be placed outside each of the residents’ rooms in LifeWay’s safe houses. Its red, yellow or green signal would indicate whether someone outside was welcome to enter the room. 

Their second idea, and the one they ultimately went forward with, was a bracelet. It’s no ordinary bracelet, however; the beauty of this unique design is its ability to sense and relieve anxiety. The bracelet has a cooling pad inside, resting on the wrist where the vagus nerve passes through. It ticks when the wearer’s heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute and releases a cooling sensation, calming the wearer. 

From here, group members were each assigned individual aspects of the project. One student was in charge of finances; another was a product manager; while others worked on the coding for the bracelet.  

Creating change

The project was instrumental to students’ education not just in computer science; it was also a lesson in empathy. The students said the project taught them a great deal about the struggles survivors face, such as PTSD and anxiety caused by the trauma of being trafficked. They learned too about anxiety and ways to combat it. Importantly, the students came to recognize how their work can have an impact on others’ lives. 

Their project reflects LifeWay’s mission to empower survivors. We’ve offered short-term emergency stays to survivors since 2009 and have been operating long-term transitional safe houses since 2012, granting harbor to more than 150 women from 38 countries thus far. These houses provide more than simply shelter; they’re homes where survivors live in community and are provided with the resources they need to rebuild their lives — from the help of social workers, to mental health counseling, to legal support, to connections for educational and job training opportunities. 

After they leave LifeWay’s safe houses, survivors can transition into an independent living arrangement within the community. On average, resident emotional well-being is greatly improved upon leaving the program compared with when they entered. Survivors report increased trust, self esteem and optimism for the future, along with fewer symptoms of PTSD, less suicide ideation and less fear regarding their safety.

Innovative, bright and caring young people such as the students in Lauren Mitchell’s class at Convent of the Sacred Heart give us hope in our ongoing effort to prevent human trafficking and support survivors. We celebrate and appreciate their achievements on behalf of the women who call LifeWay home as well as other survivors who will surely benefit from their remarkable design.