Managing Editor: Juliana Zhu, Esq.
Volume 2, Issue 2, Winter 2013
THE FIGHT AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING. WHY TRUCKERS?
By Lyn Thompson
Truckers are the backbone of the American economy. If you bought it, chances are it was delivered by a truck that carried it across state borders. Truckers are everywhere, which is why they make great surveillance personnel for notifying law enforcement about crimes such as human trafficking. Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) is an organization that provides truckers with resources to help the fight against human trafficking. Truckers have helped expose and arrest trafficking rings. TAT will ensure that they continue to do so.
When working on a strategy to fight human trafficking, one of the first steps should be to determine 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?
When it comes to 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 is going on; restaurant and hotel personnel, who might see trafficking taking place in their establishments; and members of all segments of the transportation industry, because traffickers are continually transporting victims to sell them in a variety of places.
Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) began as an initiative of Chapter 61 Ministries in 2009 to work with the trucking industry, because it’s 9-million strong. 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 entire United States. Lastly, 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. This is evidenced by the number of victims rescued from truck stops by the FBI.
The members of Chapter 61 Ministries believed that if the trucking industry 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 rescued 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. They are a critical front-line group to recruit.
Using tools such as an informational website (www.TruckersAgainstTrafficking.org), 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 and Twitter), 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. TAT members also began working to change perceptions of the women encountered working at truck stops. These women, commonly referred to as “lot lizards” by members of the trucking industry, are now being seen for who they are –people who were probably exploited, used, abused, or trafficked at some point in their lives.
The trucking industry began responding positively. By 2011, TAT had grown so much and was making such an impact in the industry that it needed to become an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in order to sustain its efforts.
Members of the trucking industry, who had witnessed the prostitution of women and minors at various places throughout the United States for years but who had not known what it was – forced prostitution and modern-day slavery – began calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) to report what they were seeing. Polaris Project, which runs the hotline, reported that calls from truckers rose substantially between 2009 and 2012. Between Dec. 7, 2007 and July 31, 2013, the NHTRC received 689 calls from truckers.
Major travel plaza and truck stop organizations, such as TA/Petro, Pilot/Flying J and the Iowa 80 Group, joined TAT by making a commitment to train their employees with TAT materials and to make those materials available for trucking customers across the United States. Truck-driving schools, national and state trucking organizations, trucking companies – both large and small –individual truckers, trucking organizations of all types, and trucking media have also joined forces with TAT. They are continuing to fight against human trafficking through their own efforts.
States like Iowa are creating models for other states to follow as their Department of Transportation is working with TAT to place TAT materials in their state scale sites, state rest areas, and state truck stops. They are also working with major carriers in the state to train their employees with TAT materials.
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 rescue of those girls, but also that of seven other minors. Thirty-one offenders were arrested and a 13-state prostitution ring was broken.
Training and working with front-line responders in the United States in the fight against human trafficking is a strategy that can and does yield big results.
Lyn Thompson is a co-founder of Truckers Against Trafficking. She, her four daughters and a friend became involved in the abolitionist movement when they founded Chapter 61 Ministries in 2007. With more than 30 years as a public relations professional, Lyn's background, speaking and writing skills continue to be useful to TAT's current mission and goals.