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Commercial Truck Drivers and Human Trafficking Prevention

Human trafficking protesters

Tuesday, Nov 3rd, 2020

Human Trafficking Awareness

Employers with commercial drivers have a chance to help eliminate the trafficking of people. Many traffickers use the same routes and stops as commercial drivers do, taking advantage of the anonymity of truck stops and travel centers. However, commercial drivers can be an extra set of eyes and ears, looking for things or people that seem out of place, and potentially helping to save someone’s life.

What is Human Trafficking?

Female human trafficking victim

Human trafficking is defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 as the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” The term human trafficking also includes sex trafficking, which is defined as a “commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person [is under] 18.”

Essentially, human trafficking is one person (trafficker) using some form of coercion to persuade a person (victim) to do something for money. The assumption is that this always involves sexual acts, but it can include everything from providing childcare and doing nails to sex acts and selling drugs.

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While human trafficking is illegal, commercial drivers put even more at stake if they participate, even unwittingly. Under the No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act, anyone who uses a commercial motor vehicle to commit felony sex trafficking will receive a lifetime ban on driving commercial motor vehicles.

Drivers can also be charged even if they weren’t aware of what was in the load a buddy asked them to carry, or who the extra passenger was on the bus. Someone charged as an accessory to a crime can receive the same charges as the criminal. Depending on the actions of the trafficker, this could include assault, kidnapping, murder and sex crimes. In addition, penalties for soliciting a prostitute vary, but they can include over a year of jail time and fines of up to $150,000.

The Stats on Human Trafficking

Statistics on the percentages of American men and women who solicit prostitutes are not excellent, because most people don’t want to report when they’ve committed a crime. Some reports estimate between 10% and 20% of American men have solicited a prostitute. While soliciting a prostitute is a crime, there are also other risks.

Johns, another name for the people soliciting prostitutes, are frequently the victims of additional crimes. Fifty-six percent of prostitutes have assaulted a john for reasons other than self-defense. Approximately 10% to 35% of prostitutes never use a condom for commercial sex. Finally, only 47% of prostitutes know if they are HIV positive.

Homeless teenager trafficking victim

The media has created what are often inaccurate depictions of both victims and traffickers. Despite the common belief, victims are rarely foreign nationals, and are instead citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. Particularly vulnerable populations include:

  • American Indians
  • LGBTQ+
  • People with disabilities
  • Runaway youth
  • People living in poverty

However, beyond these populations, demographics of victims are not limited to one age, race or gender. Like victims, traffickers themselves are also from a variety of backgrounds. Traffickers can be male or female, they might operate alone or as a larger operation, and they can be gang members, diplomats, businesspeople or company owners.

As mentioned earlier, trafficking isn’t limited to just commercial sex. Victims are found in both legal and illegal industries including:

  • Elder care
  • Massage parlors
  • Nail and hair salons
  • Restaurants
  • Factories
  • Farms

Many of the people working in these industries were promised legal jobs earning good wages, but when they arrive, their passports are taken and they are forced to work.

In films and on television, traffickers are often depicted as a sort of jailer, using physical restraints to prevent their victims from leaving. The reality is much less violent, often using psychological manipulation to convince victims to stay. This can include threatening the victim’s loved ones, promising love and purchasing the victim expensive gifts that they must then pay back. Physical abuse and isolation are also used by traffickers, to ensure the victim relies only on the trafficker.

Drivers Need to Stay Aware

Truck driver on lookout for human trafficking

Commercial drivers should try to be on the lookout for sex trafficking in particular, which often occurs at truck stops. This typically happens in two different forms:

  • Escort-like services
  • Fake massage businesses

For escort-like services where sex either occurs in the buyer’s truck or a nearby motel room, victims will typically have to solicit customers by using a CB radio, knocking on truck doors, or walking up and down what is referred to as the “tarmac.” Fake massage businesses will often have billboards or other advertisements along the highway or in the truck stops. Victims of both forms are constantly being moved to prevent them from forming relationships or reaching out for help.

Commercial drivers of all vehicles can help spot trafficking. Local and long-distance buses are often used to transport victims, either to their trafficker or to customers. Bus stops and stations are also popular recruitment venues, with traffickers taking advantage of the homeless and runaway youth who tend to seek shelter in these spaces. Door-to-door sales crews also use buses to transport young adults to their location before forcing them to work for the cost of their ticket, as well as an ever-growing list of expenses for lodging and food.

There are certain common signs that commercial drivers can look for if they suspect someone might be a victim of trafficking, including:

  • A person who disoriented or doesn’t know where they are
  • Someone bruised or with tattoos that look like branding or barcodes
  • A person appearing out of place, maybe not carrying any luggage or wearing clothing inappropriate for the weather or setting

Find the Right Resources

Drivers should trust their instinct and report it if something seems wrong or out of place.

Commercial drivers should never confront a suspected trafficker or victim. This can make the situation more dangerous both for the driver and the victim. If the situation is an emergency or violent, drivers should contact local law enforcement. Otherwise, drivers suspecting trafficking should contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888. They can also text HELP or INFO to BeFree at 233-733. Available 24/7, this national hotline offers resources for victims and reporters, and callers can remain anonymous.

Employers should educate drivers not only on the health and emotional challenges of commercial driving, such as loneliness and depression, but also the risks of drugs and other illicit activities. External resources can be provided to drivers as well, enabling them to reach out for assistance anonymously.

Commercial drivers have several resources available to find out more about human trafficking and how they can help end it. The Department of Homeland Security has created the Blue Campaign, which provides education and resources for the general public. The National Human Trafficking Hotline is also useful for the general public, providing resources and a place to contact for assistance.

More specifically, Truckers Against Trafficking is a national organization that focuses on the trucking industry, but is relevant to anyone who drives commercially. In addition to education and resources, they offer free courses to help eliminate trafficking.

Commercial drivers and their employers may always be on the go, but when looking for human trafficking, they are some of the best eyes and ears available.

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