Human trafficking is the trade of humans against their will, most commonly for sexual slavery, involuntary labor or commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of human trafficking is international, with victims moved from less-developed areas to more-developed ones. However, it is becoming an increasingly local problem — particularly the interstate sex trafficking of minors.
Kendis Paris is the executive director of Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), a nonprofit that trains members of the trucking industry to fight human trafficking. Elizabeth Rennie, APICS magazine senior managing editor, recently spoke with Paris about TAT and how ASCM Members — particularly those in logistics, transportation and distribution — can help address this global crisis.
Rennie: What inspired you to start TAT?
Paris: TAT exists to educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking industry to combat domestic sex trafficking as part of their everyday jobs. It was my mother who put two and two together on this one. She came across a [U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation] (FBI) statistic stating that the FBI was finding women and children being forced into prostitution at truck stops, and she recognized the incredible potential the trucking industry could have if drivers were educated and equipped on the issue — and she was right. She began contacting state and national associations, and [my sister and I] began to join her at truck shows and other places members of the industry gather to spread the word. That was back in March of 2009. As TAT continued to grow, I took over and became executive director in 2011.
Rennie: Tell me about the unique influence truckers have on the problem of human trafficking.
Paris: At any given time, there are more professional drivers out on the road than law enforcement officers. These drivers also frequent places pimps will bring their victims, such as truck stops, rest areas, hotels and motels. And don’t forget truckers load and unload out of just about every business in the United States. Truckers truly are the eyes and ears of our nation’s highways. What TAT recognized is that a major cultural shift was needed away from the “She’s just a prostitute” mentality and toward the reality that, if you are seeing a minor selling commercial sex or any sign of pimp control, you are witnessing sex trafficking. In doing so, we are working to raise up a transient army to assist law enforcement in aiding victims and arresting traffickers and buyers.
Rennie: The problem of human trafficking is much more prevalent than most people realize. How do you educate, engage and inspire truckers to make a difference?
Paris: We tell the backstories of the victims they actually see; we help them understand who really is in control out there; we humanize what is often objectified; and we empower truckers to take simple, but effective action steps. And then we shine the spotlight on all the good they’re doing. We give the truckers, the truck stop employees and the safety directors all the praise because, at the end of the day, they are ones on the front lines, and they’re the ones making the difference in the lives of the victims.
Rennie: How does TAT training work?
Paris: We have a basic training DVD that we ask [commercial driver’s license] instructors, safety directors and truck stop general managers to show their drivers and employees. We also have an accompanying wallet card, available in app format, that provides the signs to look for, questions to ask and the actionable information law enforcement needs when someone reports a tip. In addition, we work with shippers and [third-party logistics providers] because we recognize that they can use their influence with the carriers they work with and hire to introduce this program to them. We’d love to see every company decide that the carriers who move their products should be TAT trained.
Rennie: What is the specific role that truckers play once they are trained?
Paris: We want truckers to take a second look whenever they are parked. If they are witnessing a crime in progress, they need to call 911 and report it immediately, but then they need to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) and report it there as well. It is imperative that we drive the data to one location so that analysts can understand the routes traffickers are using and where hotspots are located. The hotline number is also the perfect number to use when a trucker, or anyone, isn’t sure if what they’re looking at is really human trafficking. When you call, you’ll be connected 24/7 to a trained specialist who can help you ascertain the situation and contact law enforcement as needed. This is also the number to call to access victim services.
Drivers can remain anonymous and confidential when calling the hotline, and we always tell them that it’s okay to be wrong. Better to expend 10 minutes of your life and find out everything is okay than let someone endure days, weeks, months or even years of sexual slavery.
One driver recently was sitting in his truck when he was approached by a female no older than 14 years old who was offering sexual services. Earlier, he had observed the minor walking from truck to truck with a male in his 20s. … The driver offered to help her, but her male counterpart arrived at the truck, and she became silent. The driver then called 911, reported the incident to truck stop management and then called the NHTH. Shortly after the calls, five police cars were dispatched to the location, and several males were arrested. The minor was a runaway from another state, and the pimp had outstanding warrants for kidnapping and other charges.
Rennie: That’s a very powerful account. I assume there are many more stories like that one, which demonstrate the power of your initiative. Can you share some specifics about the type of impact TAT is having?
Paris: Truckers have now made more than 1,800 calls into the national hotline, resulting in more than 500 cases involving close to 1,000 victims — 300 of them being minors. And that’s only one slice of the data pie because no one is collecting data about 911 calls or calls made to a local sheriff. And, as they keep spreading the word to other truckers, their companies, and even friends and family, we will continue to have an impact.
Rennie: What should truckers — and all of us — be on the lookout for with regard to sex trafficking?
Paris: Any time you see a minor selling commercial sex — and it doesn’t matter if she or he is smiling or saying that they like it or want to be out there — or you witness any kind of pimp control, call the hotline. Pimp control often involves talk about making a quota, tattoos with signs of ownership, a car dropping off multiple girls or women to work the row, talk of a commercial company over the CB radio, drug addiction, bruising, lack of [identification], or someone being unfamiliar with his or her surroundings or location. Call the hotline immediately, and report what you are seeing. The key for all of us really is taking a second look and examining our assumptions. If we think someone is just a prostitute, then that’s all we’ll ever see.
Join the Fight
To report suspected trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or text “INFO” or “HELP” to BEFREE (233733). Never approach traffickers; allow law enforcement to deal with the situation and recover victims.
Victims of trafficking can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.
To get involved with Truckers Against Trafficking, visit truckersagainsttrafficking.org.
Elizabeth Rennie is senior managing editor for APICS magazine. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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