DALLAS — A nonprofit is calling on fleets to do more to combat sex trafficking, saying truckers can help detect and stop crimes given the unique nature of their job.
At the Women In Trucking Association's conference on Tuesday, Truckers Against Trafficking representative Laura Cyrus recounted stories of sex trafficking and how drivers' awareness saved victims.
"We know that truck drivers, especially through their sheer numbers, their extensive travels and the nature of their jobs, can provide an extra set of eyes and ears for law enforcement and recovering these victims and having those traffickers arrested," said Cyrus, senior director of industry training and outreach with the nonprofit.
In one instance in 2015, truck driver Kevin Kimmel called the police after noticing a recreational vehicle looked out of place at a Virginia gas station, leading to the arrest of an Iowa couple who had kidnapped and forced a young woman into prostitution. They were sentenced to prison for decades.
Cyrus said perpetrators can repeatedly rape victims and asked the audience to imagine if it happened to a friend, family member or colleague. “Victims of human trafficking may be forced to have sex up to 20 times a day,” she said.
A September report about modern slavery estimated that 6.3 million people across the globe are in forced commercial sexual exploitation on any given day. It also said forced labor and marriage cases increased from an estimate of 40.3 million in 2017 to 49.6 million in 2021 and appeared to worsen across the globe in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Victims of human trafficking may be forced to have sex up to 20 times a day."
Truckers Against Trafficking senior director of industry training and outreach
But drivers are not the only ones in the industry able to intervene. Cyrus noted how businesses, such as human resource departments, have roles, too. She pressed HR representatives at a crowded 2022 Accelerate! Conference & Expo presentation to add policies to call out illegal activities.
The nonprofit has sought to build awareness and education through training materials it’s developed. That includes a free educational tool for electronic logging devices that should be released this year, partner Zonar, a tech company, said in a news release Monday.
Drivers can use the new tool to submit tips directly to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and it’s a less data-intensive alternative to the existing Truckers Against Trafficking app.
The tools are helping dispel myths about trafficking, such as who is responsible for these crimes. Cyrus noted that trafficking can occur by a variety of perpetrators in a myriad of places, saying they take place not just at truck stops and rest areas, but also hotels, motels, city streets and businesses.
"We even have success stories of a driver that was delivering his load, waiting … and he was approached by a victim," Cyrus said.
And perpetrators can come from all walks of life. Almost 40% of child trafficking cases initially involve a family member, Cyrus said, later noting trafficking charges against a former firefighter, former Army veteran and former teacher.
"Human trafficking is happening in your backyard," she said. "This is happening in your neighborhoods, in your cities. This is a local crime."