This week we feature an organization, Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), for the innovative way they are contributing to the fight against human trafficking. TAT works directly within a key industry, turns bystanders into a force against trafficking, trains law enforcement, and has created a model that can (and has) been transferred to other industries and modes of transportation.

The type of trafficking that TAT primarily works against is domestic sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is when someone uses force or coercion to get someone to do a sex act or any act that causes a child to perform a sex act. “Traffickers recruit out of schools, online, in shopping malls, as well as the streets and other locations… Many of them are used in the sex industry. In fact, what we might have once observed and called “prostitution,” could, in fact, be forced commercial sexual activity. The victims are trafficked at a variety of venues such as on the street, in private homes, and in legitimate business such as restaurants, truck stops, and motels. Human trafficking intersects with several industries, including hospitality, tourism, oil and gas, entertainment, and transportation, amongst others” (Fuessel)

“In January 2015, [Kevin] Kimmel (a certified Trucker Against Trafficking) caught a glimpse of a distraught-looking young girl in the darkened window of an RV, which had pulled into the truck stop where Kimmel had stopped to sleep. He decided things did not look right and called the police. When police responded, they found an Iowa couple in the RV, along with a 20-year-old malnourished and frightened young woman, who said the couple had kidnapped her two weeks earlier in Iowa and forced her into prostitution. The couple was arrested and charged with sex trafficking”  (Fuessel)

Human traffickers depend on the transportation industry to operate —from the recruitment stage to the every-day operation of a trafficking enterprise. Transportation hubs serve as popular recruitment grounds for traffickers because runaway youth and other vulnerable persons with nowhere to go can often be found in these places. Truck stops and other rest stations along big highways are also popular locations for traffickers to force victims to solicit sex. Further, victims, once recruited, use trains, buses, cabs and other modes of transportation to get them to where they think they will find legitimate jobs. Traffickers constantly move victims to make tracking them down more difficult and to keep victims from developing relationships with anyone but their traffickers). The transportation industry has a front-row seat to an industry often hidden in plain sight and TAT is capitalizing on this to mobilize truckers.   [Source]

TAT’s mission is to “educate, equip, empower, and mobilize members of the trucking and travel plaza industry to combat domestic sex trafficking” (Fuessel). They seek to change the mindset around sex work from the all-too-common reaction of shrugging off prostitutes as criminals or ”loose“ — to considering the story behind the person soliciting sex. It is critical that bystanders consider that, too often, these women are not willingly engaging in sex acts. TAT works closely with the National Human Trafficking Hotline (run by Polaris) and trusted local law enforcement to transform a bystander’s suspicions into action and another victim saved.

This example from 2016, in which a routine premise-check turned into a trafficking ring-bust because of two individuals’ TAT training, shows how TAT is disrupting the trafficking industry: “Field manager Adepiti at the TA Travel Plaza was making a premise check, including the fuel desk, mechanics shop, and hotel, when Alan Bailey, the night porter, told him a young lady had recently come in dressed provocatively; the porter suspected prostitution. After speaking with both the driver of the van that brought the girl, as well as the young lady when she left the hotel, Adepiti believed the girl was being trafficked. He contacted Howard County police. When detectives arrived, they recognized a woman from one of the “X-Factor” ads they’d been investigating for two months on Backpage.com. As a result of Adepiti’s call, they arrested two men and a woman on human trafficking charges. The trio were advertising as many as 12 women from various states, posting ads, renting hotel rooms, scheduling appointments for prostitution and taking money from the women after they were forced to perform sex acts. Detectives also learned all three individuals provided drugs to keep the women high, making them work without sleep, assaulting them and forcing them to perform sex acts with them under threat. Police were able to locate and recover six of the women being abused by the ring of traffickers.” [Source]

The key to changing the populations’ mindset to question these potential-victims’ backstories,  is to reach a critical mass of the population. TAT has registered 663,971 individuals to date as certified truckers against trafficking (CTATs), distributed over 1 million wallet cards, partnered with hundreds of trucking companies/ schools/ associations/ truck stops, and trained over 1,000 law enforcement officers. The CTAT certification can be obtained in person or via online webinar and gives truckers who would otherwise be bystanders the tools to identify human trafficking. Wallet cards serve as quick reminders of trafficking red flags and include the National Trafficking Hotline number (click here to print your own). The organizations that TAT partners with allows them to reach a large percentage of the three million truck drivers on the roads in the United States. TAT ’s law enforcement training may be its most important effort in the fight against trafficking. The majority of law enforcement officers trained by TAT have received little or no previous training on handling trafficking cases. (Kylla Lanier, Deputy Director of TAT)

TAT’s model for fighting human trafficking is not only impactful but unique in it’s approach to maximizing impact. It was designed to be easily transferred to other sectors, such as the organization, “Convenience Stores Against Trafficking.” TAT’s model was also replicated in Mexico, in the “Guardianes del Asfalto” program. This type of replication demonstrates how TAT’s impact is being magnified across industries and borders. [Source]

Click here to read more stories about truckers who have saved victims of sex trafficking by using their training to spot victims and call the national hotline.

Click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page to learn how to get involved with TAT as an individual.