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Organization enlists truckers to help stop human trafficking
At this year’s Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, I attended a press conference by a nonprofit organization called Truckers Against Trafficking. The premiere of TAT’s documentary was sobering and eye-opening.
The documentary centered around a 15-year-old Ohio girl named Shari, who, along with her 14-year-old cousin, was kidnapped and forced in the sex slave business. The story is gut-wrenching, but it is far from being an isolated case.
Most of us think of human trafficking as being a problem in third-world countries. But each year in this country, tens of thousands of kids are victims of human trafficking. It is a $32 billion criminal enterprise. The average age for human trafficking victims is 12 years old. The life expectancy of a child after being forced into prostitution is less than 10 years.
Some of these victims are kidnapped, like Shari and her cousin, while others are runaways or children with low self-esteem who are seduced by members of trafficking networks. These children are controlled using threats, drugs, beatings and rapes.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Evan Nicholas of the Crimes Against Children unit says in the documentary it’s a mistake to think that most young children working as prostitutes are doing it willingly. “I don’t think anyone wants to be beaten and raped on a daily basis or beaten in the most extreme ways … I don’t think there is any willingness, especially of your child victims.”
Human trafficking networks and child prostitution rings force their victims into a transient lifestyle to try to keep their victims from being detected by law enforcement. This makes truckstops, rest areas and other venues ideal places to shop their victims out because the average person is used to seeing people come and go on a regular basis.
That is why Truckers Against Trafficking was organized in 2009. The founders wanted to raise awareness of the problem and enlist the help of truckers, truckstops, trucking companies and law enforcement to rescue victims and curb the human trafficking epidemic.
“The trucking industry is in a unique position because [truckers] are often in areas where pimps will bring in their victims to be prostituted out,” Nicholas says, “those being truckstops, gas stations and things of that nature.”
TAT has been instrumental in getting the word out not only through documentaries, websites, posters at truckstops and the media, but also through thousands of wallet-sized cards the organization hands out to truckers. These cards list signs to help identify potential human trafficking victims and the national hotline number (888-373-7888) to report suspicious activity.
“What we are asking the trucking industry to do is become aware of this issue and then take action on it,” says Kendis Paris, the national coordinator for TAT. “We primarily want truck drivers to become aware of it because they are the eyes and ears of the nation’s highways.”
And it works. Shari, now married with two children, was rescued because a trucker called law enforcement and reported he saw her and other young girls at a truckstop and thought their actions were suspicious. That trucker’s one phone call not only saved Shari’s life and that of her cousin, but also helped rescue seven other child victims, break up a 13-state prostitution ring and put 31 criminals behind bars.
And since 2003 — when the Innocence Lost National Initiative, a partnership with the FBI, Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was formed — more than 1,200 other child victims have been rescued.
Truckers News has partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help find missing children at www.truckersnews.com where the database is continuously updated.
TAT has a wonderful website, www.truckersagainsttrafficking.com, that contains a wealth of information about human trafficking, videos and other resources that we would like for all our readers to visit.
We encourage everyone to learn more about this horrible crime network and to become vigilant when on roadways. And please don’t make assumptions about potential prostitution involving underage children.
They didn’t get into the situations they are in by themselves. They are someone’s child, grandchild or sibling that someone is probably trying to find.
Put yourself in their shoes and make a call if the situation doesn’t look right. It could very well be the difference between life and death for a child.