Sometimes just being in the right place at the right time can make all the difference. But just “being there” is not enough – you must do something. Over the last few years, the problem of human trafficking has become a real topic of discussion in the trucking world. With truckers being the eyes and ears on the streets, it only makes sense to educate this group of people as to what to look for and what to do. With more than 20 million people enslaved in a $32 billion worldwide industry, this problem is probably bigger than most people realize. Although I prefer to write about drivers, places and fun things in trucking, sometimes there is a great need to write about the not-so-nice things that happen out there – and this is one of those times.
Human trafficking is a term used to describe modern-day slavery. The number of victims, usually women and children, in the United States alone is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. In this article, I want to highlight some organizations that are doing great work and get life-saving information to the victims, as well as our readers.
Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) began as an initiative of Chapter 61 Ministries in 2009 when Lyn Thompson realized that the trucking industry could help combat the human trafficking that was taking place along our nation’s highways. In 2011, TAT became its own non-profit organization. Their website (www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org) has an amazing amount of resources which include information, help and support.
The mission of TAT is to educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking and travel plaza industry to combat domestic sex trafficking. One of TAT’s goals is to make their education materials a regular part of training/orientation for members of the trucking industry so when they suspect human trafficking is taking place, they can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888. In the beginning, there were only sporadic calls into the NHTRC from members of the trucking industry, but by September 2013, members of the trucking community had made 712 calls to the hotline with tips and reports. If you think you are witnessing human trafficking, call the hotline and describe the situation. If something doesn’t seem right, make the call. It is better to be safe than sorry!
Why involve the trucking industry in the fight against human trafficking? Ongoing sting operations by the FBI and other law enforcement personnel show that criminals and crime syndicates target a number of locations frequented by truckers to sell their wares. Only in this case, their product isn’t drugs, its people. Since 2004, these sting operations have rescued hundreds of children, recovered millions of dollars, and arrested numerous perpetrators.
Like cattle rustlers of old, traffickers raid schools, malls, online sites, streets and neighborhoods, stealing our children – boys and girls, teens and adolescents – drugging, raping, beating, threatening and selling them for sex, as well as labor, and making millions. Some of these victims are as young as 11 years old… some are even younger. Traffickers targeting truckers as consumers move their “goods” on a continual basis to truck stops, gas stations and rest areas in circuits that cover multiple states. Some traffickers even hire truckers to haul their victims to various locations. But truckers, in the course of their daily work – and because they are continually on the move – can help stop this by being more observant, overhearing conversations, being trained in what to look for and by tools and instruction on what to do.
So, what kinds of things should you be on the lookout for? Some trafficking red flags include someone with a real lack of knowledge about their whereabouts, restricted or controlled communication, someone not in control of their own identification or money, CB chatter about “commercial company” or flashing lights signaling a “buyer” location, and, obviously, any acknowledgment by an individual that he or she has a pimp or needs to make a quota. Some questions to ask, if you have the opportunity, are things like: do you keep your own money? If not, then who does? Do your parents/siblings/relatives know where you are? If not, why not? When was the last time you saw your family? Are you being physically or sexually abused? Are you or your family being threatened? If so, what are the nature of the threats?
It is important for you to realize that you must have “actionable information” for law enforcement to open an investigation on your tip. Give as many details as possible when reporting to the hotline. Try to give the most specific descriptions about the car or cars you saw (make, model, color, license plate, any damage) and the people (height, weight, race, hair color, clothing worn, age, etc.). Whenever possible take a picture, and always be prepared to give the specific date, time and place of what you saw. Information is king, so gather all you can. These little things you observe and report could save a life.
Take some time to navigate the TAT website, as it is filled with all sorts of helpful information. On the site you will find links, newsletters, printable wallet cards, window decals for your truck, posters and brochures, training DVDs, and a host of other helpful resources – you can even download an app for your smart phone. The wallet cards are a great way for truckers to always have the information with them to help recognize trafficking and the National Hotline number to call when it is suspected. On the website, you can also learn about the Harriet Tubman award, which was recently created to honor a member or members of the trucking industry whose direct actions help save or improve the lives of those enslaved or prevented human trafficking from taking place.
The Harriet Tubman Award, which also comes with a $2,500 check, is named in honor of famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman, whose courageous personal actions resulted in the transportation of 300 slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad and whose overall role in the freedom movement was instrumental in the freeing of thousands more. Tracy Mullins – a general manager of the Petro Stopping Center in Spokane, WA was TAT’s first annual Harriet Tubman Award winner for her actions that helped prevent a possible human trafficking situation from happening. “Because of Harriet Tubman’s connection to transportation through the Underground Railroad and her heroic work to free thousands of slaves, TAT believes she epitomizes what this award represents,” said Kendis Paris, TAT executive director. If you want to nominate someone for the award, you can do so on the TAT website.
When asked if Kendis knew anyone I could talk to who had gotten themselves out of a human trafficking situation, she did not have any names to give me. But, it’s funny how things happen. Shortly thereafter, a press release was sent to 10-4 and then forwarded to me about a movement known as Ricky’s Revolution (www.rickysrevolution.org). One of the founders of this organization, Jeannie Kerrigan, was exactly the person I wanted to talk to. After being a victim herself, Jeannie wrote a book about her experience and now she is out there “screaming” about this issue and trying to help others get out. The book is called “Layla” and it can be ordered through Amazon.com. But be aware – this book pulls no punches – she held nothing back!
Started by Jeannie and her co-founder Katherine Patton, Ricky’s Revolution is a national outreach program developed to help runaways, homeless youth, and victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse to reach a place of safety as quickly as possible. Both of these women have made it their mission to help the lost souls find their way home, and both of them understand the value of human connection as an integral part of the healing process. Helping those who are hurting reach a place of safety, helping them to realize they have choices, and facilitating the healing process is their professional commitment and lifelong passion.
Ricky, whom the organization was named for, is a stuffed monkey embroidered with hotline contact numbers and given out for free at shelters and to anyone alone on the streets. By providing information for safety and shelter options through national hotline numbers, the organization aims to encourage, educate, and empower those who need some direction and movement towards healing. Jeannie had the original “Ricky” for years, but she lost him when she was abducted and raped by a truck driver in a two-day ordeal. Worrying that she might be discovered, he kicked her out of his truck and sent her on her way with another truck driver, and in that transition she lost what few belongings she had, including her beloved stuffed monkey. Now, through the efforts of Jeannie and her organization, there are thousands of Rickys being distributed to thousands of hurting people, and all of them have those life-saving phone numbers stitched on their arms.
Getting the word out is so important! With more eyes and ears out there in the places where these crimes are being committed, hopefully we can get help to the people out there who so desperately need it. If you can’t donate any money to these causes, maybe you can volunteer your time to one (or both) of them. Your help, however small, could really make a difference in many lives. Please go to these websites, educate yourself, request materials, and help get the word out. If we all band together, we can stop this horrific crime that is happening all around us. And please, if you see something, take that extra step so many won’t and make the call.