Last spring in this column we wrote about how truckers can educate themselves on how to spot victims of human sex trafficking through a Web site, truckersagainsttrafficking.com (TAT for short), which was made possible through the efforts of Chapter 61 Ministries, the Christian Truckers Network, Tenstreet LLC and others.
TAT was formed by members of OATH (Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans), who spearheaded the initiative to educate and raise awareness among members of the trucking industry “since to a great extent domestic sex trafficking is occurring along the nation’s highways and at truck stops,” said Chapter 61 Ministries’ Lyn Thompson, a member of OATH who helped start TAT.
“Pimps have even been known to recruit truck drivers to transport girls over state lines and while the average age for a young girl to enter the sex-for-trade industry in the U.S. is 12, many of them are forced to lie about their age, pretend they enjoy what they do and present a much older image of themselves,” Thompson said.
“In response, we are asking the 3.5 million domestic truckers to become aware of this issue because they are the eyes and ears of our nation’s highways and when they suspect a human trafficking case, to call the national hotline and report it.”
Most people think human sex trafficking doesn’t exist, or if it does, it’s in other countries. Actually, in the U.S. the conservative estimate is that 17,000 people are trafficked here every year, mostly women, and many of them children and runaways. The majority of trafficking victims globally are between 18 and 24 years of age; an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year; 95 percent of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking (based on data from selected European countries); 43 percent of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98 per cent are women and girls; 32 percent of victims are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56 per cent are women and girls; and many trafficking victims have at least middle-level education, according to Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking or GIFT. This is slavery.
For anyone still in doubt consider this: former NBA All-Star Alvin Robertson last month landed back in jail on charges including sexual assault of a child and sex trafficking. He has been accused of being part of a sex trafficking ring that kidnapped a 14-year-old girl. Through his lawyers he has denied the allegations.
A warrant was issued for the former Spurs player in late February as part of an investigation that started in April of 2009 when the 14-year-old waved down a police cruiser in Corpus Christi, Texas, and told authorities she had been kidnapped in San Antonio. She had escaped from her alleged captor, Leslie Campbell, while he was showering. Robertson’s girlfriend, Raquel McIntosh, 41, of San Antonio, was arrested Feb. 26 on charges of sex trafficking of a minor and forcing a sexual performance by a child, according to Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputy Ino Badillo.
The Associated Press reported that it was alleged Robertson was among seven people who kidnapped and assaulted the child, who was forced into prostitution and made to dance at a strip club.
In early March Kendis Paris of Chapter 61 Ministries did a presentation on Human Trafficking 101 at a meeting of the National Association of Public Funded Truck Driving Schools.
Paris said before she spoke about the problem of human sex trafficking and what truckers can do, probably most people in the audience were unaware of the problem.
However, she said, “I truly believe that a paradigm shift occurred throughout the presentation as the reality of the issue took hold” (part of her presentation was a Prime Time Crime video which she said made a big impact).
After her speech, Paris said attendees “swarmed” the front table to see the handouts, brochures and other informational material on the subject.
Those materials included some of more than 35,000 wallet-sized cards for truckers with basic information on how to spot victims of human sex trafficking and the national toll free hot line number to report suspected human sex trafficking: (888) 373-7888. Reports on suspected trafficking also can be sent via e-mail to Report@PolarisProject.org.
The cards were created by Chapter 61 Ministries. They list indicators that a person may be a trafficking victim such as:
• Few or no personal possessions
• Lack of knowledge of their community or whereabouts
• Not in control of their own identification such as ID or passport
• Restricted communication (not allowed to speak for themselves)
• Signs of malnourishment
• Signs of fear, anxiety, depression, submissiveness, tension and nervousness, and
• Not in control of their own money.
Now, continued Thompson, trucking companies such as Melton have put up TAT materials in their break rooms and offices, the Transportation Club International has featured the program in a weekly newsletter, several trucking radio shows have publicized information on TAT, and one carrier sent out 8,500 OATH DVDs on human trafficking.
Women In Trucking also has had a newsletter on the subject and provided a booth at the Big Rig Expo in Tulsa, Okla., and Transport for Christ has helped host Webinars and put out human trafficking information in truck stop chapels across the U.S. and Canada.
State trucking groups, the American Trucking Associations, the National Association of Truckstop Operators (and of course The Trucker newspaper) also have helped publicize the initiative.
Kudos to the truckers of this country who are not afraid to help eradicate a problem many people don’t believe exists.
Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.