Truckers Fight Against Human Trafficking
Truckers travel thousands of miles on a regular basis and see many things, some of which are unethical. Unfortunately, truck stops are often associated with prostitution, and the women involved are not always working under freewill. Instead, they are forced into a disturbing life of exploitation in a ring of human trafficking.
During the past ten years, truckers have banned together in collaboration with truck stops across the U.S. to form a coalition known as Truckers Against Trafficking. The Truckers Against Trafficking (T.A.T.) project is dedicated to teaching truck drivers, businesses, and law enforcement agencies how to recognize and assist human trafficking victims during an encounter. To date, more than 700,000 individuals have been trained through project T.A.T.
The Human Trafficking Crisis
The human trafficking crisis destroys lives and is not confined to certain areas. Innocent, vulnerable men, women, and children of all ages and various backgrounds fall victim to human trafficking all around the world. It is defined as modern-day slavery and the traffickers controlling the victims have developed an extremely organized and lucrative business by forcing their victims into some form of labor or sex act for money.
The individuals being sold within this criminal organization fit no single profile. It might be a young male who is down on his luck when a seemingly nice person shows a bit of kindness, by giving him cash, or buys him a hot meal or needed clothes, or promising a better life. What initially seemed to be an act of kindness quickly evolves into the trafficker claiming the victim and forcing repayment for the debt in whatever criminal act chosen. Other victims are kidnapped or recruited in shopping malls, schools, and various populated places. The trafficker is in the business of selling these individuals, forcing them to participate in activities and services, while personally benefitting from the financial rewards. Typically the victims are paid very little, if anything and frequently endure abuse and neglect.
According to the International Labor Organization, statistics indicate that as of 2016, more than 40 million people were enslaved in this high crime business, with 4 million of them, primarily young females being sexually exploited.
In an effort to stop these criminal organizations, truckers are diligently spreading the word across America and communicating any concerning scenarios with authorities.
Recognizing the Signs
Initially, the human trafficking victims may not stand out, but once you know some of the obvious signs, it becomes easier to identify them. For example, young females that may be involved in prostitution are usually scantily dressed, or working long, unusual hours. Victims may don a neck tattoo that serves as the trafficker’s brand. Other indicators include lack of personal hygiene, fearful or nervous reactions, signs of substance abuse or emotional distress.
Traffickers selectively choose areas with a variety of activity and strangers passing through, such as rest areas, hotels along the highway, and truck stops. These locations are usually secluded, which makes it nearly impossible for victims to break free from those in control. However, it can happen anywhere. Some criminals have been arrested doing business in grocery store parking lots.
How Truckers Are Fighting Human Trafficking
Because truckers travel long stretches of highway and frequent these businesses, they play a major role in the fight against human trafficking. Truckers are encouraged to complete the T.A.T. training, which educates them on what to look for. They are encouraged to be on the lookout for these red flags and pay attention to vehicles and suspicious looking individuals. Upon seeing questionable activity, it is then reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline or 911. The response and involvement of truckers has already saved lives with more than 1100 victims identified by truckers and hundreds of potential cases being reported to the hotline. Additionally, truck drivers have helped save victims firsthand because of their attentiveness to odd situations and following their instinct, such as the CNN story of Kevin Kimmel.
Truckers are helping spread the word by sharing information with schools, neighborhoods, and the general public. Truckers also help transport the Freedom Drivers Project, which is a mobile museum on sex trafficking that visits county fairs and trucking events throughout the U.S.
Truck stop owners and operators are joining efforts with truckers by training employees on what to look for and how to respond in potential human trafficking situations. The truck stop facilities are increasing security measures and installing lighting equipment to help in the fight against these horrendous operations.
The New York Times recently published an article in an effort to raise awareness about the crisis, and in 2017, T.A.T. launched a nationwide campaign entitled “Man to Man.” The “Man to Man” campaign encourages commercial drivers to educate other men on the connection between paying for commercial sex and the endangerment of lives. Truckers have massive leverage in this fight because of the miles they travel and opportunities to interact with people from all walks of life. As such, they can help bring these criminals to justice and inform others about this very real problem.
Truckers Against Trafficking
Truckers Against Trafficking (T.A.T.) is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2009. The organization provides instructional videos and educational materials to workers in the trucking and busing industries. T.A.T. also provides a wallet card complete with helpful tips and hotline contact information.
The nonprofit business has partnered with law enforcement and other entities like UPS, which alone trains thousands each year. Prior to involving truckers and staff members of truck stops, law enforcement agencies and the FBI were primarily responsible for scouting the truck stops as well as other businesses frequented by traffickers. However, this resulted in traffickers working even more secretly, which elevated risks for the victims.
Truck drivers are amicably referred to as “knights of the highway,” as they travel the roads with their watchful eyes and helping hands. Indeed, there is power in numbers and with 3.5 million truck drivers currently employed in the U.S. they are on a mission to spot victims and save lives. Conversely, with new drivers constantly being recruited, these numbers will continue to increase. Many of trucking schools are starting to implement the T.A.T. training as a mandatory portion of the driver training programs, as well.
Awareness + Action = Solution
While a large percentage of human trafficking involves females and young children, boys and men are not exempt. The people at high risk are those that lack stability or fail to have strong supportive relationships. The more awareness and action taken, the better chance we’ll have in stopping this crime against humanity.