Friday, January 9, 2015

In the Fight Against Human Trafficking, Why Truckers?

By Lyn Thompson, Co-Founder, Truckers Against Trafficking

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, and 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 could also see trafficking taking place in their establishments, as could members of the transportation industry, including airport employees. Traffickers are continually transporting victims to sell them in a variety of places.

Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) began in 2009 as an initiative of Chapter 61 Ministries to work with the trucking industry, which is seven 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 others might be in trouble. Members of the trucking industry are everywhere, covering the entire United States. Furthermore, traffickers wanting to make fast money often target truckers at truck stops and rest areas because they’re everywhere and easy to reach along highways. This is evidenced by the number of victims rescued from truck stops by the FBI.

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 2014. Between Dec. 7th, 2007, when the hotline began and Sept. 30, 2014, the NHTRC received 996 calls from truckers.

The members of Chapter 61 Ministries believe that if the trucking industry were empowered with education and equipped with tools to fight human trafficking, they would be quick to 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. Because of their mobility and training, they are a critical front-line group to recruit.

Using tools such as an informational website, on-demand webinars, a trucking-industry-specific training DVD, wallet cards with signs to look for and questions to ask, and social media accounts on 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. 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.

Major travel plaza and truck stop organizations 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. Trucking organizations of all types — including schools, national and state organizations, companies both large and small, media, and individual truckers — have also joined forces with TAT.

TAT works to create 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 localized response to human trafficking by gathering state, federal and local law enforcement agencies and local anti-trafficking organizations in the same room with key industry stakeholders, including general managers of truck stops and representatives of state trucking associations and carriers.

Using TAT materials, the Motor Vehicle Enforcement division of the Iowa Department of Transportation has created a model for other states to follow in working with the trucking industry. They place TAT materials in their state scale sites, rest areas, and truck stops. They are also working with major carriers in the state to train their employees with TAT materials.

Why truckers? Here is one example: With one phone call, a trucker who saw under-aged girls working a truck stop not only helped save those girls, but also seven other minors. 31 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, and members of the trucking industry are some of the leading front-line responders.

Lyn Thompson is a co-founder of Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT). She, her four daughters and a friend became involved in the abolitionist movement when they founded Chapter 61 Ministries in 2007. In 2009, Lyn decided to engage the 7+ million members of the trucking industry with the idea of fighting human trafficking in the course of their everyday work, so she started TAT as an initiative of Chapter 61 Ministries. Within two years, it had grown so large she could no longer keep up with its demands in addition to her full-time job. Her daughter, Kendis Paris, took over as executive director, took TAT through the 501c3 process, and it became its own organization. With more than 30 years as a public relations professional, Lyn continues to serve TAT as communications specialist.