Truckers on Front Line in Battle Against Human Trafficking
Human "trafficking" a term for modern-day slavery has been reported in all 50 states. The Department of Justice estimates that anywhere between 100,000 to 300,000 of America's children are at risk of entering the sex for sale industry every year. Trafficking often occurs where young girls, and sometimes boys, can be easily moved from city to city and forced to engage in commercial sex along the way.
Human trafficking is a $32-billion worldwide industry with more than 27 million people enslaved. It has been reported in all 50 states, and the number of victims in the United States is estimated in the hundreds of thousands.
While illegal, human trafficking is a booming business, second only to drug trafficking. Traffickers recruit out of schools, online, in shopping malls, as well as the streets and other locations. A large percentage of the people trafficked are women and children, many of them used in the sex industry. They are often prostituted out businesses such as truck stops.
Truckers Against Trafficking was formed recognizing that members of the trucking industry and individual truckers are invaluable in the fight against human trafficking. "As the eyes and ears of our nation's highways, you are in a unique position to make a difference and close loopholes to traffickers who seek to exploit our transportation system for their personal gain," TAT says.
Statistics from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) in 2011 broke down data received from truck stops to show how truck driver involvement is helping halt these heinous crimes:
- In 2011 the NHTRC received 185 calls from callers who self-identified as truckers. Over 50% of these calls referenced human trafficking tips or crisis cases.
- The most common way callers learned of the NHTRC was via TAT.
- The NHTRC received reports about 79 unique cases of potential human trafficking at truck stops in 2011 35 of those contained a high level of critical information and demonstrated key indicators relevant to identifying a human trafficking situation.
Following are two of those cases:
- While driving through Flagstaff, AZ late at night, a trucker pulled over at a truck stop near the highway. The driver observed a man who appeared to be in his late 30s with a young girl who appeared to be around 13 years old. At first the driver didn't think anything was wrong, but after observing the man and the young girl approach several other truckers, the driver became increasingly suspicious. The driver spoke with one of the other truckers, who told him the man with the young girl was offering to sell her for commercial sex to the various truckers they'd approached. The driver hadn't been to this particular truck stop in the past, and he asked the other trucker if he'd seen the man and the girl before. After indicating that the situation wasn't new, the other trucker explained that, while he was disturbed by what was occurring, he didn't know what to do with the information. The driver decided to contact the NHTRC, since he'd heard about the human trafficking hotline on a radio spot by TAT. After receiving the driver's report, the NHTRC reported the information to a federal law enforcement taskforce that works specifically on cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children.
- Early one morning, a truck driver contacted the NHTRC to report a situation involving several young girls. A few days previously, the truck driver had been at a truck stop in Arkansas and had observed three teenage girls offering commercial sex. The trucker wasn't sure of their exact ages, but thought they looked very young. In the past, the trucker had observed women at this particular truck stop offering commercial sex, but this was the first time she'd seen anyone this young. At first, she was hesitant to report the sitaution, but she'd noticed that all of the young girls were picked up by the same van each morning, which she found suspicious. After seeing a newspaper story about human trafficking and hearing a radio commcercial by TAT that featured the hotline number, the trucker decided to call and report what she'd seen. The NHTRC contacted a federal law enforcement taskforce that works specifically on cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children and provided them with information about the truck stop.
Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) is a 501(c)3 that exists to educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking and travel plaza industry to combat domestic sex trafficking.
Goals of TAT:
- Make the TAT training DVD, wallet cards (and other materials) a regular part of training/orientation for members of the trucking industry so that when they suspect human trafficking is taking place they can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-3737-888 and report what they know.
- Partner with law enforcement to facilitate the investigation of human trafficking and marshal the resources of the trucking industry to combat this crime.
Many trucking organizations are involved in TAC including the American Trucking Assns., the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn., the Iowa 80 Truck Stop, truckload carrier C.R. England, Women In Trucking Assn., Transport for Christ, The Great American Trucking Show, the Dave Nemo Show, Travel Centers of America and Pilot Travel Centers.
The latest trucking organization to join TAT is the Truckload Carriers Assn. Speaking at TCA's Safety & Security Division Annual Meeting in Indianapolis in mid-May, TCA President Chris Burruss announced that TCA is making full use of its Truckload Academy On-demand (TAO) education and training platform to prepare drivers and others to recognize and report such human trafficking.
"When Truckers Against Trafficking told us about the severity of the problem, TCA did what any good professional truck driver would do: we stopped to help," said Burruss. "It is our goal to help train and certify our members' employees particularly drivers on how to recognize the signs of trafficking and how to report what they discover to the proper authorities. We have the members, the resources, and the technology to reach out to thousands of people.
TCA has developed a test that all interested parties (not just truck drivers) can take to obtain the designation Certified Trucker Against Trafficking, or CTAT. The questions are based on a half-hour video that outlines the scope of the human trafficking problem and what to do when someone encounters it. There is no cost to become certified, and everything is available through TAO (www.truckload.org/TAO).
The training and testing also will be offered on-site at the Great American Trucking Show (GATS), August 22-24, 2013, in Dallas, TX.
Additionally, TCA will ensure that its member companies have access to TAT materials, which include awareness posters that can be hung in company break rooms and wallet cards that promote the National Human Trafficking Hotline: (888) 373-7888. These items are available in English, Spanish, and French Canadian. When suspicious activity is spotted, a simple phone call to this number could help authorities rescue an enslaved victim.
"We are so fortunate to bring TCA on board through this partnership. They have the connections we need to help unite a large portion of the industry behind this meaningful work," said Kendis Paris, executive director of Truckers Against Trafficking. "They also have tremendous expertise in the area of training and education, and since TAO is compatible with mobile technology, we now have the means to certify large numbers of people. At the end of the day, that means that more lives will be saved."
TCA stresses that anyone who wants to help end human trafficking can get CTAT certified; it is not necessary to be a truck driver or a TCA member. However, it is hoped that the trucking industry can set an example for other industries so they will get involved with the program.
"With millions of people making a living through trucking in some way, there is much potential for closing loopholes to traffickers who victimize both women and children along our nation's highways," Burruss adds.
For more information about Truckers Against Trafficking, please visit www.TruckersAgainstTrafficking.org.