Tied to a cause: Driver support grows for Truckers Against Trafficking

| April 11, 2014
Climber and cattle-hauling owner-operator Matt Hopkins’ fund-raising effort for Truckers Against Trafficking, From Miles to Mountains, concluded in February with Hopkins' climb of Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina.

Climber and cattle-hauling owner-operator Matt Hopkins’ fund-raising effort for Truckers Against Trafficking, From Miles to Mountains, concluded in February with Hopkins’ climb of Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina.

Truckers Against Trafficking can count among its supporters all the major trucking associations, not to mention many of the country’s largest fleets, along with other industry partners, including Ryder and, as a high-level sponsor, Bridgestone.

J.B. Hunt is starting to train drivers on how to spot human trafficking on the roads and at truck stops, says TAT Executive Director Kendis Paris. “C.R. England’s on board,” Paris adds, “Werner, Knight,” and many other fleets, too.  “We love to see anybody using their influence to get the message out there.”

That’s where owner-operator Matt Hopkins comes in. With his “From Miles to Mountains” initiative, he transformed what would have been nothing more than a quest to climb one of the Seven Summits (the tallest peaks on every continent) into a benefit effort for TAT.

By the time Hopkins boarded a plane in Bozeman, Mont., in late January, bound for connectors that would land him in Santiago, Chile, months of planning had transformed his personal pledge.

Tony Justice for Overdrive Magazine photographed by Tyler Oxendine

ARE YOU A TRUCKER AGAINST TRAFFICKING? 
In addition to driver-songwriter Tony Justice (picture above, and featured on Overdrive‘s December 2013 cover), whose newest record speaks the Truckers Against Trafficking message via a promotional partnership, driver Timothy Coon is further evidence of TAT’s reach into the driver community. “If you’re a driver and you have an ounce of empathy in your being, I strongly urge you to join Truckers Against Trafficking,” he says in a video message he made and has promoted himself via his YouTube channel

Coon also encouraged his carrier to train its drivers about TAT, as the organization posted on its Facebook page in December 2013. “And they said yes! We are sending materials out immediately. This is the power of the individual trucker who takes the next step in being a TAT!” 

TAT supporters include not only fleets and drivers, but also the American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the National Association of Small Trucking Companies and the National Association of Truck Stop Operators.

“I never really knew what human trafficking was,” says Hopkins. “You first hear about it through movies, and you just think, that’s a big deal, but it’s all overseas.” More and more, however, Hopkins “kept hearing about it, and that it’s a problem here.”

The domestic human trafficking TAT urges drivers to target is that which primarily results in forced prostitution.

“We are just trying to get drivers to look for two things,” says TAT Administrator Laura Cyrus:
1) “Evidence of pimp control” of prostitutes working lots and other locations across the nation, which may come in the form of a “car or SUV and five to six women or girls getting out to start working the lot.”
2) “Anyone under the age of 18” doing so.

“Either of those, call the hotline,” Cyrus says. Tips made through the TAT hotline – 888-373-7888 – are funneled to national and/or local law enforcement  for follow-up. “If you have any inkling, just call.”

Truckers Against Trafficking’s hotline had received almost 800 calls by February, said TAT’s Kylla Leeburg. Other markers of growth include a new website launched in February and a newly released educational video. For more information about TAT’s impact, see the “About Us” page at TruckersAgainstTrafficking.org. On Twitter, follow @TATKylla, and search “Truckers Against Trafficking” on Facebook, to stay abreast of the organization’s efforts.

Truckers Against Trafficking’s hotline had received almost 800 calls by February, said TAT’s Kylla Leeburg. Other markers of growth include a new website launched in February and a newly released educational video. For more information about TAT’s impact, see the “About Us” links at TruckersAgainstTrafficking.org. On Twitter, follow @TATKylla, or find the organization on Facebook, to stay abreast of the organization’s efforts.

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Calls to the hotline have ballooned since TAT’s first training video in 2011. That’s  when it went full bore with outreach to the trucking industry on trafficking, releasing its first training video documentary and doing outreach at big industry events and elsewhere. Previously, the organization operated as a division of Chapter 71 Ministries, says current TAT Executive Director Kendis Paris, but became its own unaffiliated nonprofit the year Paris became its first executive director in 2011.

Overdrive TAT pollOwner-operator Hopkins first heard about the organization on trucking satellite radio in 2012. About the same time, he had a friend who used a long bicycle trek as a way to benefit The Girl Effect (thegirleffect.org), a nonprofit devoted to helping vulnerable adolescent girls in Africa and elsewhere rise out of poverty.

Hopkins thought, “If I ever get a chance to do something big … I should be able to do something bigger than myself.” Otherwise, “you’re taking a 53-foot trailer across the country, and it’s only half full,” he adds. He later said to TAT, “If you want to put your flag on my back, I’ll take it to the top.”

 

In Part 2, Hopkins takes TAT up the mountain. Read his story here. 

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