America's Truckers Are On The Front Lines Of Stopping Human Trafficking

Truckers Against Trafficking has been a huge help in fighting this horrible crime.

Kevin Kimmel had gone through this routine hundreds of times.

He was at a truck stop about 40 minutes outside of Richmond, VA after having completed his deliveries for the day, filling out some paperwork before getting some sleep. Two spots next to him, there was an RV. Kimmel watched as a middle-aged man entered the RV, and saw what appeared to be a young girl looking through the window.

And then she vanished.

Kimmel thought it looked the girl had been pulled away from the window, and something about the appearance of the van and the entire situation gave him the distinct feeling he wasn't looking at a family situation. So he called the hotline for Truckers Against Trafficking, and within minutes the parking lot was full of police. Kimmel had spotted a couple holding a young girl against her will, and his quick thinking ended up sending that couple to prison on a human trafficking charge.

Kimmel knew how to identify human trafficking thanks to the Truckers Against Trafficking program, a 501c3 that helps train truckers on how to spot, report and stop human trafficking in step with law enforcement. The organization began in 2009 when executive director Kendis Paris' mother attended a conference in Denver, Colorado on human trafficking.

One of the workshop leaders spoke about training gas station employees, and Paris' mom realized truck drivers could be a valuable asset. At any given time, there are more truck drivers on the road than law enforcement officers across the country.

"It's not just truck stops,"  Paris said. "These guys are at rest areas, they are at hotels, motels, they load and unload at every business out there, so they see a lot."



Courtesy of Truckers Against Trafficking
Courtesy of Truckers Against Trafficking

In the early years, Paris spent her time pulling the organization together, piece by piece. She found partners, helped build the infrastructure, went to every tier of the giant trucking industry to look for opportunities. Because there are 400,000 trucking companies and 90 percent of them operate 20 or fewer trucks, Paris realized a training DVD would be the best way to reach them all.

Today, there are 440,000 truckers registered as TAT-trained. That means there are 440,000 men and women on the road who know how to spot and report suspicious activity that might be related to human trafficking. TAT has handed out over one million wallet cards that give reminders on all the things to look for if you think someone might be involved in trafficking.

Courtesy of Truckers Against Trafficking
Courtesy of Truckers Against Trafficking

One of the most important things, Paris said, has been convincing people that if they see a prostitute she isn't always there because she wants to be.

"If we could have that cultural shift occur away from the 'she's just a prostitute' mentality and towards 'hey, if I see a minor selling commercial sex or any kind of pimp control I'm looking at human trafficking,' then really what we'll be doing is raising a transient army for law enforcement," Paris said.

Since their inception, though, Paris has said there has been tremendous growth in public's recognition that human trafficking is a problem. A Plus co-founder Ashton Kutcher spoke about his organization THORN in front of Congress this year. President Trump and his daughter Ivanka have repeatedly spoken about cracking down on human trafficking. One professor even made a website that aggregated on the available data on human trafficking in one place.

Already partnering with law enforcement in 30 states, TAT is hoping to cross borders and industries in the near future. One of the best things about their model is that it's easily replicated and not difficult to spread the training. They partnered with Mexico to who is going to launch a program called Guardians of the Asphalt. They've begun to see convenience stores replicating their models. They are hoping, soon, to get bus drivers to undergo the same training. 

Paris noted that last one could be a particularly useful tool to help girls who are trafficking by night but attending school during the day. 

"Half of American schoolchildren ride the bus daily — so can we train them?" Paris said. "There are stories of victims who literally go to school every day and are trafficked every night."

Signs they could have bus drivers look for include emotional distress, frequent absences, tattooing, kids showing up with the latest electronics, and so on. Many victims of trafficking are moved frequently between locations, so the wider the net of TAT-trained people is, the easier it'd be to rescue victims in between.

"It really is a battle for the heart and mind," Paris said. "The first step is helping people understand 'yeah, she doesn't want to grow up to be a prostitute.' There's somebody behind this, there's somebody forcing this. All the awareness has done us a world of good."

Cover image via Truckers Against Trafficking.

More From A Plus

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.