WHEN WORKING ON a strategy to fight human trafficking, one of the first steps is determining which groups of people have the greatest opportunity to spot human trafficking as it is happening. In other words, who could serve as the primary surveillance?
With this crime, those front-line people include such groups as medical personnel, who treat victims in medical clinics; service personnel in local neighborhoods (such as postal workers, and cable, electrical, and water providers), who come by homes on a regular basis and would notice if something unusual was going on; restaurant and hotel personnel, who might see trafficking taking place in their establishments; and members of all segments of the transportation industry, including airport employees, because traffickers are continually transporting victims to sell them in a variety of places.
In 2009, Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) began working with the trucking industry, both nationwide and internationally, because they recognized truckers as critical frontline people.
They knew truckers are trained to be extremely observant. The trucking industry is composed of people already entrusted with caring for other people’s goods, which speaks to the character of the industry when it comes to caring for others—especially when the interest of others might be in trouble. Members of the trucking industry are everywhere, covering the roadways of entire countries. Lastly, research shows that traffickers wanting to make fast money often target truckers at truck stops and rest areas (because they’re everywhere and easy to reach right along highways) to sell their victims.
TAT believed that if trucking industry personnel were empowered with education and equipped with tools to fight human trafficking, they would be quick to mobilize against this crime. They could do their part to see victims recovered and perpetrators arrested. Members of the trucking industry could be everyday heroes in the course of their jobs and make a significant impact against the criminal activity of human trafficking. Perhaps they might even have a greater impact than the average person, because of their mobility and training.
Using tools such as an informational website,1 on-demand webinars, a trucking-industry-specific training DVD, wallet cards with signs to look for and questions to ask, and social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), TAT began making contacts throughout the trucking industry to build relationships and state the case for trucking members to join the abolitionist movement. TAT also began having a presence at major trucking shows, as well as providing free presentations wherever requested by members of the trucking industry. The trucking industry responded positively, and TAT grew substantially.
To date, more than 1,341,000 drivers have been registered as TAT Trained. These men and women, who had witnessed the prostitution of women and minors at various places throughout the United States for years but hadn’t known what it was—forced prostitution and modern-day slavery—began calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) to report what they were seeing. Polaris Project, which runs the hotline, reported that calls from truckers rose substantially starting in 2009 when TAT began. The National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) statistics show that in the last five years, over 41% of the cases truckers have reported to them involved victims that are minors.
Major travel plaza and truck stop organizations also support TAT by making a commitment to train their employees with TAT materials and make those materials available for trucking customers across the U.S. Truck-driving schools, national and state trucking organizations (all 50 state trucking associations now partner with TAT), carriers—both large and small—individual truckers, trucking organizations of all types, including the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) and the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA), and trucking media outlets have also joined forces with TAT over the years.
TAT continually works to foster relationships between state and federal law enforcement and members of the trucking industry through half-day events called Coalition Builds. These events provide a more effective and localized response to human trafficking by gathering law enforcement agencies (state, federal and local) and local anti-trafficking resources (task forces and local non-governmental organizations) in the same room with key industry stakeholders, including general managers of truck stops and representatives of state trucking associations and carriers. To date, TAT had held 73 builds in 39 states and two in Canada.
In 2014, TAT also launched its Freedom Drivers Project (FDP), a 48-foot mobile exhibit that travels the U.S. to raise awareness and teach the public about domestic sex trafficking, as well as what the trucking industry is doing to combat it. The FDP is in high demand across the nation by legislators, anti-trafficking groups and trucking leaders, with over 58,518 people already walking through its doors at more than 250 events in 47 states and provinces.
TAT also works with the Motor Vehicle Enforcement division of the Iowa Department of Transportation, which has created a model to utilize/mobilize weigh stations, rest stops and state patrol in helping get the word out about human trafficking, train law enforcement and gain entry points into the trucking industry. Forty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have now adopted the model in part or in whole. In addition, 12 states have adopted TAT training for their CDL holders, with additional states considering following suit. Two Canadian provinces have partially adopted the Canadian CVE Model, which is the Canadian equivalent of the Iowa MVE Model.
Why truckers? Watching the TAT training DVD readily answers that question. With one phone call, a trucker who saw some under-aged girls working a truck stop not only facilitated the recovery of those girls, but also that of seven other minors. Thirty-one offenders were arrested and a 13-state child sex trafficking ring was broken.
Working with front-line responders in the U.S. in the fight against human trafficking is a strategy that can, and does, yield big results, and members of the trucking industry are some of the leading front-line responders.
Once you have trained your drivers and employees, be sure to visit the TAT website and register them as TAT Trained. It takes five minutes or less to complete the registration process. In addition to trucking companies, TAT is also working with shippers and 3PL companies, asking them to talk to trucking companies in their networks about human trafficking and training their employees. Some shippers are even changing their RFPs to include being TAT trained as a condition for hiring. Our TAT website (truckersagainsttrafficking.org) offers a growing list of registered TATtrained companies.
Continue to talk to everyone in your sphere of influence about human trafficking and what the trucking industry is doing to fight it—your neighbors, church, community and family. You are making a difference and helping to keep vulnerable children from becoming victims of human trafficking while influencing others across the country to join the fight.