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TCA sticks to pledge against human trafficking

TCA sticks to pledge against human trafficking
Swift Transportation, a TCA carrier member, unveiled a custom truck wrap dedicated to Truckers Against Trafficking in January. (Courtesy: Swift Transportation)

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) is known for being a voice for trucking companies and their drivers, as well has having a deep commitment to the safety of our nation’s roadways.

Part of that commitment is taking a stand against human trafficking.

In January, TCA took action to help eliminate human trafficking by signing the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking (TLAHT) pledge. The pledge outlines numerous ways the transportation industry can unify efforts to eliminate trafficking.

“The Truckload Carriers Association is committed to empowering our stakeholders to work jointly to put an end to human trafficking,” stated TCA President John Lyboldt. “It’s important that we, as an industry, utilize programs such as Truckers Against Trafficking.”

For over a decade, TCA has partnered with Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), a nonprofit organization that trains truck drivers to stay alert and speak up against human trafficking.

Through TAT’s training programs, drivers can learn to recognize and report human trafficking cases. Trucking company employees and drivers are trained to ask specific questions when interacting with a potential victim or perpetrator.

Motor carriers and drivers are eligible for TAT training at no cost. Once a carrier is TAT trained, that carrier can provide the training to all of its employees. Once a driver is trained, he or she can look out for the “red flag indicators” when faced with a potential trafficking victim on the road.

TCA was an early partner in carrying out TAT training by providing conferences and accessible certification information.

“Before TAT had any kind of formal certification up and running on our website, TCA took the initiative and enabled carriers and the drivers themselves to receive it through theirs,” said TAT Co-founder and Executive Director Kendis Paris. “In fact, at one major truck show, they rented a conference room, set up computers, and advertised to drivers that they could become a certified Trucker Against Trafficking member on the spot. We loved it!”

The early TAT organization started as an initiative of Chapter 61 Ministries in 2009 in Paris’ hometown of Englewood, Colorado. The certification program sought to educate new drivers about the horrors of human trafficking, as well as about the organization. TCA’s partnership broadened that reach by engaging its carrier members in the effort.

“Our partnership with TCA also provided even more credence to our small nonprofit, as not many carriers or drivers knew who we were early on,” she shared. “As the word spread and the training really got out there, including among the TCA’s membership, it really helped to have such a reputable organization supporting us and encouraging their members to get involved.”

Some TAT-trained TCA carrier members are taking it to a new level by providing promotional and volunteer opportunities for TAT.

Just this year, TCA member Swift Transportation revealed a wrapped truck in dedication to TAT. The 2021 Freightliner Cascadia design features the TAT logo, the National Human Trafficking hotline number, and the words “Everyday Heroes Needed,” to represent the importance of truck drivers in the fight against human trafficking. The truck wrap showcases the partnership between Swift and the nonprofit, with a common goal to support TAT’s mission of educating, equipping, and empowering members to combat human trafficking.

The wrap was unveiled during January, a month devoted to raising awareness of human trafficking.

Swift spotlights TAT in the driver qualifications for Swift University, the carrier’s driving school, and orientation, according to Swift Marketing and Communications Director Tina Brewster.

Swift was inspired to design the truck wrap after representatives at TCA’s 2019 annual Safety & Security Meeting were reminded about the dangers of human trafficking through a presentation by Louie Greek, a TAT training specialist.

Today, more than 1,600 of Swift’s professional drivers are TAT-trained.

Brenny Transportation has supported TAT since 2012 and was TAT’s first corporate donor. The Minnesota-based company continues to serve TAT by requiring all new drivers and employees to become TAT-trained during their orientation. After six months and a year of employment, Brenny employees are re-trained. In total, 125 are TAT trained.

“We do this as a reminder of the importance (of TAT) as well as to catch any updates or changes which TAT has made,” explained President and CEO Joyce Brenny. “(Employees have) empowerment and the feeling like they are part of a solution. The trucking industry is gaining back its hero status by helping to combat this horrible problem. One mile at a time, one life at a time.”

One mile could result in all the difference for a human trafficking victim. Since TAT’s inception, the organization has grown to 1,206,596 people trained to be the eyes, ears, and voice for the road. Brenny Transportation further impacts this by influencing truck stops to carry TAT material.

“TCA is on the cutting edge of how generous and helpful truckers truly are,” explained Brenny. “Those of us in trucking appreciate the additional voice TCA has given us and the knowledge to serve and help TAT.”

Kevin Kimmel
Truckers Against Trafficking awarded Kevin Kimmel the Harriet Tubman award after he reported a trafficking victim and perpetrators in 2015. The award is named in honor of Harriet Tubman, the famed abolitionist credited with using the Underground Railroad to transport slaves to freedom. (Courtesy: TCA)

It’s not just TCA carriers who are putting in the work — their employees are stepping up as well. Retired Con-Way Truckload driver Kevin Kimmel reported a trafficking victim and perpetrators one night in 2015.

Kimmel had parked at a truck stop to sleep for the night when he noticed an RV that seemed out of place. He wasn’t used to seeing many RVs in the area, and especially not one with its windows covered with black-out curtains.

“People were coming and going (from the RV) and then there was obvious movement,” recalled Kimmel. “Then I thought I saw a girl stick her head out behind the curtain and she was jerked away. So, I thought about it for a little while and thought, ‘If it’s not something bad, then I’m just going to inconvenience somebody for 15 minutes.’ I called the local police and they had sheriffs and state troopers there in under five minutes.”

Kimmel’s gut feeling told him making the call wasn’t just an inconvenience — and his gut was right. Even though Kimmel never received TAT training, his instincts led him to use TAT principles.

When law enforcement responded, an Iowa couple and a 20-year-old woman, who appeared to be malnourished, were found inside the RV.

“They brought the girl out first, who was in terrible shape,” he said. According to the young woman, the couple had kidnapped and abused her; then forced her into prostitution. The couple was later arrested and sentenced to 40 years in prison for sex trafficking.

Kimmel, who later testified to the FBI in the case, received TCA’s Highway Angel Award and TAT’s Harriet Tubman Award. Today, Kimmel volunteers with TAT’s Freedom Driver project to raise awareness for TAT.

TAT created the Harriet Tubman award in 2013 to honor members of the trucking industry whose direct actions impacted those victimized by human trafficking.

The award is named in honor of Harriet Tubman, the famed abolitionist credited with using the Underground Railroad to transport slaves to freedom. She was never caught and never lost a passenger.

“Any time you can help somebody out, I think it’s a great thing,” said Kimmel. “You know, all I did was make a phone call. And that’s all you have to do.”

A phone call to the National Human Trafficking hotline, 888-373-7888, can lead to the recovery of victims and the arrests and prosecution of traffickers. According to TAT, there more than 40 million people have been lost to human trafficking.

Hannah Butler is a lover of interesting people, places, photos and the written word. Butler is a former community newspaper reporter and editor for Arkansas Tech University's student newspaper. Butler is currently finishing up her undergraduate print journalism degree and hopes to pursue higher education. Her work has been featured in at least nine different publications.
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