Truckers Get Trained to Put the Brakes on Human Trafficking

Officials hope new training and tools can help drivers spot victims.
(Photo: Zoran Milich/Getty Images)
Mar 20, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Alison Stine lives in the foothills of Appalachia and her work has appeared in The Nation, The Paris Review, The Toast and she is the author of 4 books, mostly recently "Supervision" for HarperVoyager UK.

Across America in gas stations, rest stops, and small towns, the fight against human trafficking is being fought by unassuming warriors—truckers—and with unlikely weapons, including soap.

“People driving down the road see stuff all the time that the rest of us aren’t seeing,” says Ohio State Highway Patrol Captain Mike Crispen. That includes trafficking: the forced exploitation, either for sex or labor, of human beings.

Crispen is working with transportation leaders, the trucking industry for example, to curb human trafficking in Ohio, a state that since 2015 requires anyone applying for a new commercial driver’s license to complete anti-trafficking training. Truck drivers learn what trafficking is and how to stop it.

There have been 289 human trafficking cases reported in Ohio this year alone, with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reporting 14,588 sex trafficking cases nationally since 2007.

Truckers cover a lot of ground, sometimes traveling to places at night that the rest of us don’t often see. According to Lyn Thompson, cofounder of the nonprofit educational organization Truckers Against Trafficking, “Because of the nature of their jobs, their constant travel, their locations throughout the U.S., their observation skills, their service nature, and their history of helping people in trouble on the roadways...[truckers] are in a position to see trafficking taking place and be first-line responders.”

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Truckers Against Trafficking produced a training video and made wallet cards that list trafficking warning signs and the toll-free hotline of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (888-373-7888). Those on the phone forward truckers who give tips about suspected trafficking to law enforcement, and victims who call are connected to help services. The cards give instructions on “actionable information” people can provide and list questions to ask a suspected victim, such as “Are you being paid?” and “Are you being watched?”

As the training video explains, any minor involved in commercial sex is clearly a victim, but people should be on the lookout for adults who may have been forced into trafficking too, as they are often abused or manipulated to keep them there. Often, the only place a victim may be left alone is a bathroom, so organizations across the country have wrapped bars of soap with the hotline number and placed them in gas stations and hotels.

One of these organizations is All We Want Is Love. Founded by trafficking survivor and model Jillian Mourning, the nonprofit worked in partnership with another group to distribute more than 50,000 bars of soap with the hotline info.

Anti-trafficking training is a requirement in Ohio only for new truck drivers, not those already licensed, but the state, in tristate cooperation with Indiana and Michigan, is having truck inspectors pass out anti-trafficking cards every time they stop a truck. Crispen hopes these efforts take off in other states.

Trafficking is a mobile crime, with traffickers “always moving their victims from point to point for sale to keep them from being recovered or escaping, to prevent them from being helped,” Thompson said.

Outreach materials are spreading across the transportation industry, to taxis and buses, rest stops and service plazas. Truckers Against Trafficking also makes window decals with the hotline and the question: “Do you need help?” Companies, including Walmart, plaster their fleets with the stickers. Vigilante Trucking covers entire trailers in anti-trafficking messages and parks them at truck stops.

It’s difficult to know the specific impact of these actions—a trucker trained in Ohio could help a victim in Texas, for example—but those 50,000 bars of soap resulted in 10 trafficking investigations. The training video includes an account from a survivor named Shari, who was 15 when she was trafficked. She was rescued when a trucker saw her.

“Because this trucker made the call, I have an opportunity to have a life,” Shari says in the video.

Her mother also appears, and when asked about the trucker, she starts to cry. “Oh, that trucker—the one that made that phone call—I think about him all the time. I have never met him. I don’t know who he is…. But if he ever sees this: Thank you, thank you, thank you.”