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The Eyes and Ears of Our Nation's Highways

Human trafficking happens everywhere in the United States. It crosses many professional industries and sectors, and it is important that everyone be educated about the issue and know what signs to look for. Case in point, at any given time there are more truck drivers out on the road than there are law enforcement officers, and professional drivers often find themselves in places where they will intersect with potential victims. Thus, Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), a Colorado-based organization, is taking the lead in the trucking industry to ensure that all commercial drivers and truck stop employees are trained on the signs to look out for and know where to report suspected incidents of human trafficking.

TAT widely shares the National Human Trafficking Hotline number, and has produced various training and awareness materials specifically for truckers and trucking industry professionals. They partner with state Attorneys General and their offices to host coalition builds – day-long training events that bring together members from local law enforcement, the trucking industry, and local anti-trafficking professionals. These events are vital components to equipping industry leaders with the knowledge and resources to take back to their teams, and are a great venue for facilitating introductions and dialogue between truck stop employees, local law enforcement agencies, and survivors of human trafficking. Last year alone, TAT held coalition builds in California, Kentucky, Kansas, Texas, and Utah. I had the honor and privilege to present on the National Human Trafficking Hotline at a few of them.

TAT’s partnerships with Attorneys General across the U.S. are a testament to the serious commitment that state governments are making to fight human trafficking in their communities. Attorneys General are able to push for stronger legislation to require human trafficking training for individuals obtaining a commercial driver’s license, and as the state’s highest legal officer, the Attorney General sets the tone that human trafficking will not be tolerated and go unnoticed in their state.

From December 2007 through June 2016, the National Hotline received over 1400 calls from truckers and identified 452 potential human trafficking cases. These cases referenced 992 victims of trafficking, of which 270 were identified as minors.

In the past, truckers have been stereotyped as being buyers of commercial sex, but TAT has shifted the culture of the trucking industry through its work. Truckers are now better educated about the issue of human trafficking, are more vigilant about their surroundings, and are reporting suspected cases to the National Hotline.

Even more significant is that truckers are reporting this information as soon as they are witnessing or encountering it – whether it’s observing a suspicious situation or being solicited through a knock on their cab door. Real time reports to the National Hotline enable quicker responses by law enforcement, allowing them a greater chance to intercept an exploitative situation and potentially save a life.

One of TAT’s newest initiatives is the Freedom Driver’s Project, a powerful and eye-opening mobile educational exhibit used to educate people about the realities of sex trafficking in the U.S. The truck trailer houses a wonderful educational video and multiple displays of the impactful work that TAT and its partners have done. The most moving parts of the exhibit that emphasize both the egregious nature of this crime and the resiliency of those victimized by this horror are the individual stories and artifacts retrieved from human trafficking survivors. Quotes, shoes, and clothing are but a few of the items that make this issue a reality and not just something we talk about as an abstract problem that could affect our citizens. After touring this one-of-a kind museum, visitors learn simple but effective action steps and are empowered to get involved in the fight to end human trafficking.

One immediate way that everyone can get involved is by consciously changing our language and ensuring that others are following suit. Understanding the dynamics involved when people are trafficked and breaking down pre-determined stereotypes and name-calling are good first steps. Use your knowledge about human trafficking to educate others and feel empowered to call out those who glorify the word “pimp” in their language, or who demean individuals engaging in commercial sex by using labels such as “lot lizards,” “whore,” “street walker,” or the like. And, there is no such thing as a “child prostitute” because minors induced to engage in commercial sex are victims of human trafficking!

You can also get involved by self-educating about the issue, utilizing the National Human Trafficking Hotline as a resource, and celebrating and supporting everyday heroes in the fight to end human trafficking. TAT is one such hero, making a difference within the trucking community – the eyes and ears of our nation’s highways.

Photo credit: Flickr / /ltus

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Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.