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December 01, 2016

Truckers Joining the Fight against Modern Slavery

One challenge to dismantling trafficking networks is that most people don’t recognize a trafficking victim when they see one. That’s why law makers, advocates, and police are raising awareness among those uniquely positioned to confront, identify, and report suspected trafficking.

While much focus has been on flight attendants, teachers, and motorists, now a new group is being trained as eyes and ears against trafficking: truck drivers. With 3.5 million professional drivers nationwide, their proximity to these crimes and presence on major roadways makes them an ideal group to recognize and report trafficking.

Last week Texas State Senator Sylvia Garcia introduced a bill mandating that applicants for commercial driver’s licenses take a training course on recognizing and reporting human trafficking. Many states and organizations are making it their mission to incorporate anti-trafficking training into the orientation of truckers across the country. California now requires public notices about trafficking to be posted at privately owned truck stops and Pennsylvania posts the trafficking hotline number at all welcome centers and rest areas operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. 

In the United States traffickers benefit from an integrated highway system that lends itself to the swift and low-risk movement of people across our country. Our highways are chock-full of venues that traffickers target, such as truck stops, rest stops, hotels and bars, where secluded locations and a transient customer base allow this silent crime to flourish and continue.

Truck drivers often frequent these spaces after spending hours or days on major highways. Raising awareness within this group will lead to the dissemination of information and tools to drivers across the country, and will help those most likely to come face-to-face with trafficking victims to recognize the signs.  

There are now truckers’ non-profit organizations partnering with law enforcement, state departments of transportation, and private companies to teach drivers about human trafficking. Organizations like Truckers Against Trafficking has trained over 240,000 drivers on the signs of trafficking. Polaris Project reports that truckers have called the hotline number 1,534 times, resulting in 471 possible cases involving as many as 1033 victims. Other groups like the National Association of Truck Stop Owners have targeted the business community, educating truck stop and travel plaza employees who often directly interact with travelers.

For both sex and labor traffickers, our major roadways facilitate this lucrative crime. While truck drivers are more likely to be confronted with victims of sex trafficking, ensuring that they are trained to recognize all types of trafficking is the best way to increase accountability and lower the risk-reward equation for traffickers.

Given that trafficking is a hidden crime and victims rarely interact with the public, quick recognition and efficient response are key to recovering victims and identifying perpetrators. Creating a collaborative environment between truckers and law enforcement helps to close this gap and build trusting relationships between those most likely to encounter trafficking and their responding counterparts.

Iowa and Ohio have experienced successful collaboration where the MVE Model has been fully adopted, streamlining training materials for law enforcement and drivers, and widely distributing them to these groups. In other states, coalition builds are creating regional groups of law enforcement and truckers, bringing them to group trainings to discuss ways to effectively collaborate and build relationships.

The Human Trafficking Hotline has received 20,424 calls to date in 2016. This number is proof that human trafficking is a major problem that needs more dedicated resources to fight it. Training people to identify and correctly report the signs of trafficking is a key step in the effort to deter traffickers. Recognizing this crime requires training and education, and effectively reporting it requires a collaborative alliance that includes law enforcement.

Recruiting truck drivers to engage in the fight against trafficking on the roads poses a huge threat to traffickers. Their eyes on the road in coordination with law enforcement can strengthen investigations, leading to more prosecutions and greater victim recovery and ultimately reduce the number of trafficking victims across the United States.