The Webby for Good, produced in partnership with WP Engine, is a showcase of Webby-honored projects and campaigns that are promoting social good in the world.
Describe your project. What is it, what was the elevator pitch?
The Mouvement du Nid is an NGO involved in the fight against prostitution and helping prostitutes escape a system that destroys them. We wanted to change the general public's view on prostitution, so we created a fake escort website, girlsofparadise.sex, on which the girls are already dead, but the clients don't know it yet. Each story is a reconstruction of a real case. When the potential client called or chatted with one of them, he was confronted with her real, tragic story.
What key challenges did you face with this project? And how did you overcome them?
Our challenge was to explain that, by putting money in this system, clients of prostituion actually are accomplices in the violence the women suffer. For us, the most powerful way to demonstrate this was to use true stories of prostitutes who were murdered or injured by a client or their pimp. To do so, we hacked the different communication environments used by prostitution rings and created a fake, yet powerful ecosystem made of a website, radio spots, flyers, and digital videos.
What was the most rewarding aspect of working on your project?
In addition to learning a lot from the ex-prostitutes who assisted on the project, we were very pleased with the results. After the launch, we received more than 600 phone calls and thousands of texts and chat conversations in a single week. During each conversation, we witnessed clients' perceptions change as they discovered the true stories of the women they were looking to reach. The campaign caught the attention of more than 200 journalists around the world, and achieved 57.8 million organic impressions.
Why this particular cause as the subject of your project/campaign?
Until April 2016 prostitution in France was legal. In France, prostitutes have a mortality rate 40 times higher than that of the rest of the French population, and 60% to 80% of prostitutes suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, much like victims of torture. In 2016, before the vote on the law penalizing clients of prostitution, the debate focused solely on prostitutes, and not on clients. That’s why we decided to switch up the conversation, to open people's eyes and push the French Assembly to pass the law, which it did.
When working on this project, what were some of the most important conversations you had with your team?
The most important conversation we had was one about morals. We didn’t want our campaign to be about judging people who choose to be prostitutes—we wanted to make sure that it helped them and didn't further stigmatize them. We discussed this thoroughly before deciding on a direction, and our takeaway was that we needed to point the finger at the criminal organizations behind prostitution, and abusive clients, and not at the prostitutes themselves.
What did you learn from working on this project that you didn't know going into it? Did anything come out of it that surprised you, or that you weren't expecting?
We didn’t know how people would react to the phone calls, and we were expecting very negative exchanges, but surprisingly, some clients changed their stance radically as they discovered the tragic fate of the women they wanted to meet. They were noticeably upset by the news, and some even offered their help or stated that they would never be clients of prostitution again. While we don’t know for sure what these specific clients did afterwards, we do know that the conversations changed public perception of prostitution, and helped push the passage of the new prostitution law in April 2016.
Online campaigns that effectively raised awareness for a specific social or political cause.