LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — On a moonless night about a decade ago along Interstate 40 in Arkansas, April’s eyes were too tired to see anymore. Things were getting blurry, and she needed some shuteye.
She saw the lights of a national chain truck stop up ahead and guided her rig off the interstate and into one of the last remaining parking spots.
April cut off her truck and started digging around in the sleeper for her overnight bag. It had all her shower essentials inside — shampoo, shower shoes, soap, etc. No matter how tired she is, April always takes a shower after a long day on the road.
It was about midnight when she stepped out of her Kenworth’s cab and started walking toward the truck stop door. At that time, April had only been on the road about a year, and she admits that she was “green all around the edges.”
“I was only about 10 feet from my truck when I felt someone touching my rear end,” said April, not her real name. She asked to conceal her identity out of fear.
“I spun around, and this man put his hand over my mouth and said that we were going to have sex,” she said.
“I tried to scream, but I couldn’t. He dragged me back toward the end of my trailer, but I was able to kick him really hard. He fell down, and I ran. I just knew I was going to get raped that night.”
April said she reported the incident, but nothing ever came up it. She also told her carrier at the time, and they brushed it off as well.
“They said I should have been more careful, basically,” April said. “I was heartbroken and felt so alone. After that, I took some self-defense classes and got some pepper spray. I never really feel sale anymore, but at least I know I can defend myself if I need to.”
The federal government is working to prevent stories like April’s.
On April 28, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hosted a day of action to promote safety and prevent sexual assault as part of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
In coordination with the U.S. Department of Labor and the White House Office of Gender Policy, FMCSA participated in a virtual roundtable with stakeholders from the trucking industry to raise awareness about sexual assault and sexual harassment.
“Yeah, it’s good that we are finally talking about this, that it’s a real problem for many women out on the road alone. But there are still a lot of people who say we bring it on ourselves by how we dress or act. That’s sickening.” — April, a truck driver who survived an attempted sexual assault
The event “highlighted potential interventions to build safe workplaces, shift cultural norms and ensure trauma-informed, survivor-centered responses to reports of violence and harassment that occur both in and outside of the truck,” the news release stated.
A survey of 426 female truck drivers conducted by the Women in Trucking Association (WIT) in 2021 showed that more than 60% of them reported feeling unsafe at least once in the past year, with 20% reporting they had been threatened by a weapon.
The survey also showed that 4% of women drivers said they had been raped, and 46% reported that they had an unwanted physical advance made toward them.
WIT President and CEO Ellen Voie shared the survey’s findings at a White House Roundtable discussion on trucking industry issues.
“We need to create a safer environment if we want to bring more women into this industry,” Voie said. “Our research has shown that women rate their level of safety as a female driver at 4.4 on a scale of 10. This is unacceptable, as we should all feel safe in our work environment.”
At the recent day of action event in late April, discussion topics included why the prevalence of sexual assault/harassment is higher in trucking than in many other workplaces, how sexual assault and harassment in the workplace contribute to high turnover in the industry and what employers and fellow drivers can do to build safe workplaces and prevent sexual violence and harassment.
According to a DOT news release, ” the trucking industry has the potential to offer drivers a fulfilling career with good pay and benefits; however, the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment is very high, serving as a major obstacle to women’s participation and retention in the sector. There is no place for this in any workplace, including the trucking industry.”
DOT officials said they are working with the industry to commit to actions to promote safe work environments free from sexual violence and sexual harassment for trainees, apprentices and drivers by:
- Updating manuals, codes of conduct or other guidance within 90 days, with comprehensive sexual harassment policies and zero-tolerance policies for sexual assault and violence.
- Ensuring updated policies on sexual assault, violence and harassment are shared with all staff.
- Committing to providing comprehensive sexual harassment training to all staff on a regular basis, including board members, management, human resources, drivers, apprentices, trainees, dispatchers and instructors. Such training should be tailored specifically to the trucking industry. Through tools such as situational videos, training should also detail examples of conduct constituting sexual harassment common in the industry and the experiences survivors may face.
- Ensuring trainees, apprentices and drivers understand how to report sexual assault, violence and harassment before they get into a truck.
- Educating staff on how the company will investigate and hold perpetrators accountable, which should include the use of multiple confidential reporting channels and clear plans and timelines to investigate and act upon complaints, as well as protections from retaliation and support for survivors.
- Publicly condemning the harmful impact of sexual assault, violence and harassment on individuals in the industry and its contribution to ongoing challenges in retaining qualified drivers to move America’s goods.
“At the Department of Labor, we’re identifying trucking employers that have built supportive, inclusive workplaces for women by holding listening sessions with women drivers across the country,” the news release stated.
The Biden-Harris administration is already working to improve safety for drivers entering the trucking industry. The DOT is highlighting whistleblower and coercion protections for people facing sexual harassment and unsafe training conditions in its Entry Level Driver Training Program.
But for women like April, the scars still run deep.
“Yeah, it’s good that we are finally talking about this, that it’s a real problem for many women out on the road alone,” April said. “But there are still a lot of people who say we bring it on ourselves by how we dress or act. That’s sickening. The real fact is that there are a lot of dangerous people everywhere, not just in the trucking world. I love my fellow truckers, but just as in any job, there are bad people among us, too.”
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.