GERMANTOWN, Tenn. — Knowing there might only be a handful of truckers attending her presentation here Oct. 23 on how to spot human trafficking victims, Kendis Paris didn’t hesitate to jump on a plane from Denver and head South to speak at the 1st Annual Memphis Truck Expo Oct. 23.
As one of the national coordinators for Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), started by Chapter 61 Ministries about a year ago, Paris knows what is needed is a massive outreach to get the word out about the problem to truckers, travel plazas, fueling stations — anywhere a human trafficking victim might be.
National statistics puts the annual number of American children and teens being trafficked — or coerced into sex and/or labor — to be about 300,000. That number doesn’t count the estimated 17,000 children and adults brought into the U.S. yearly from other countries.
TAT literature states that “Because members of the trucking and travel plaza industry represent the eyes and ears of America on those highways” where the trafficked victim travels, “they can play a critical part in fighting this crime and those who perpetrate it.”
However, TAT and law enforcement authorities caution truckers against trying to become involved directly. Human trafficking is a $32-billion-a-year business, and pimps and others who control their victims with violence and intimidation are just as likely to turn that violence on someone who tries to come between them and their meal ticket.
The lion’s share of U.S. sex trafficking occurs along highways and at truck and rest stops because pimps/sex traffickers target truckers as consumers of the women and children they sell. Truckers also have been recruited to transport girls across state lines, putting themselves and their companies at risk of fines, jail time and a failed business.
The average age for a young girl to be forced into the sex trade industry is 12 and many are forced to lie about their ages, pretend they enjoy what they do and present a much older image of themselves.
An estimated third of the youngsters involved in sex trafficking are runaways, many of them the target of abuse and violence at home.
“The pimps know how to read these kids,” whether they play the caring father role or the hip boyfriend. They use drugs and violence to coerce the teens into working for them and then “they’re so far in they can’t get out of it,” Paris said.
A trucker who knows what to look for can get the proper authorities involved and maybe save a life by calling this multi lingual, toll free hotline: (888) 373-7888 at any time of the day or night. Or e-mail: Report@PolarisProject.org to report suspicious behavior.
Here are some signs a person may be a trafficking victim:
• Few or no personal possessions
• Lack of knowledge about the community or where they are
• Not in control of own identification documents such as a passport or photo ID
• Not being allowed to speak for themselves and/or controlled by a third party
• Not in control of his or her own money
• Signs of malnourishment, and
• Signs of fear, anxiety, depression, submissiveness, tension and nervousness.
Questions truckers can ask to ascertain if the person is trafficked are:
• Where were you living before you started working here?
• Were you recruited? Were you promised anything? Are you being paid?
• Are you being watched or followed?
• Are you free to leave? Can you come and go as you please?
• Are you physically or sexually abused? Are you or your family threatened?
• How many hours do you work each day? What are your living conditions? Where do you eat and sleep?
“Children don’t wake up one morning and decide they’ll be prostitutes,” says a TAT poster. “They’re forced into it.”
Paris hopes drivers who hear about the problem will respond like the trucker who heard her speak on the Dave Nemo show recently.
He related that he has daughters and granddaughters and that he wanted 60 of the cards and would pass them out to everyone in his company.
“No one person can do everything, but every person can do something,” said Paris. “This is the kind of person we’re looking for … people who will pick up the ball and run with it.”
Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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