What if truckers were educated and equipped to spot and report potential signs of human trafficking to the National Hotline?
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and with over three million truck drivers across the United States, who better to spot potential signs of trafficking on the roads, at public rest stops, travel plazas, restaurants, and hotels?
This is the motivation behind Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) who have trained over 1.2 million people across the industry about what to look for and how to report human trafficking to police.
According to TAT, our society has traditionally been conditioned to see the problem as “prostitution.” Too often the response has been to ignore it. But it is critical to consider, “What’s her story?” It is quite possible that a person engaged in commercial sexual activity has not chosen to be there but has been forced or coerced.
Why truckers matter
Sex trafficking often occurs at truck stops in the United States in two forms, through commercial sex and fake massage businesses.
Due to their frequently remote locations and transient customer base, truck stops are an ideal venue for traffickers to profit from exploiting victims without interference or undue attention.
“Human traffickers often use roadways as the mode of transportation for transporting their victims,” said CVSA President Capt. John Broers with the South Dakota Highway Patrol. “Since our roadways are the ‘workplace’ for truck drivers, motorcoach drivers and commercial motor vehicle inspectors, they are in a prime position to make a difference in helping to identify potential victims of human trafficking.”
In January 2015, Kevin Kimmel caught a glimpse of a distraught looking young girl in the darkened window of an RV which had pulled into the truck stop where Kimmel had stopped to sleep. He decided things did not look right and called the police. When police responded, they found an Iowa couple in the RV, along with a 20-year-old malnourished and frightened young woman, who said the couple had kidnapped her two weeks earlier in Iowa and forced her into prostitution. The couple was arrested and charged with sex trafficking.
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) is launching a new annual three-day Human Trafficking Awareness Initiative (HTAI) corresponding with each country’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
- In the U.S., the initiative will start on U.S. Human Trafficking Awareness Day, which is January 11, and go to January 13.
- In Canada, it will start on Canada’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day, which is February 22, and go to February 24.
- Mexico’s Human Trafficking Awareness Initiative is scheduled for March 15-17.
This initiative is an awareness and outreach effort to educate commercial motor vehicle drivers, motor carriers, law enforcement officers and the general public about the crime of human trafficking, the signs to look for and what to do if you suspect someone is being trafficked.
“Identification, and ultimately prevention, starts with education,” Capt. Broers added. “Through CVSA’s Human Trafficking Awareness Initiative, we aim to equip drivers and inspectors with the tools they need to proactively serve on the frontline in our effort to end human trafficking.”
In preparation for the 2022 Human Trafficking Awareness Initiative, CVSA is offering human trafficking awareness resources in its membership and working with the Truckers Against Trafficking organization to distribute wallet cards and window decals. In addition, during the three-day awareness initiatives, CVSA jurisdictions will note human trafficking awareness and outreach data and submit that data to the Alliance.
What is Human Trafficking?
According to the United Nations, human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud, or coercion with the aim of exploiting them for profit. Men, women, and children of all ages and from all backgrounds can become victims of this crime, which occurs in every region of the world, including North America.
Force: Physical or sexual abuse, often in the form of repeated rapes by one or more people to create submission; confinement to the residence; restrictions on movement and communication to family and friends; forced abortions; lack of medical treatment or reproductive health; forced and frequent movement between cities.
Fraud: False promises of a better life through the trafficker presenting as a boyfriend or caretaker figure; false information about working conditions, payment, and whether commercial sex will be required; telling the victim that if he or she initially consented to be part of the escort service that he or she must continue to consent and is not a victim.
Coercion: Threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to his or her family and others in the community; confiscation of birth certificates and other identification documents; forced dependency on the trafficker; rumors of or witnessed violence at hands of traffickers used as threats; cycle of rewards and punishments; threats of police involvement and arrest; threats of deportation if victim is a foreign national.
Traffickers frequently move their victims from city to city, forcing victims to engage in commercial sex at truck stops along the way. Brothels disguised as massage businesses are also sometimes present at or near truck stops. These networks control women through confinement and complicated debt bondage schemes.
How to Help: Stay Alert to Suspicious Activity and Report Trafficking
A good starting point for truckers is to watch for young teenage girls or boys lingering around truck stops or entering and exiting trucks, since these would not be normal occurrences.
You can listen to the conversation on the CB radio and stay alert for:
- code words like “lot lizard” or “Commercial Company”
- for anyone using cryptic descriptions of a child, rates or sex acts they are looking for
Finally, report any indicators of trafficking, regardless of how minor the indicator may seem.