Uber Drivers Are Unlikely New Allies In The Fight Against Human Trafficking

"Drivers, riders and employees alike can play a key role in the fight to stop traffickers."

Uber had a heck of a 2017, and now the ride-sharing service is turning the tables and joining the fight against human sex trafficking with a new national campaign. 

Though USA Today reports Uber has enlisted its drivers in local and regional efforts to help fight human trafficking of adults and minors over the past few years, this new initiative, which was announced on Jan. 29 (just days before the end of Human Trafficking Awareness Month), is aimed at all 750,000 active U.S. drivers.  

Per a press release that was published at the start of this new campaign, Uber announced it has partnered with leading organizations such as Polaris, Thorn, The McCain Institute, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, (NCMEC) and End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT-USA) to provide human trafficking education and awareness to all driver-partners across the country. 

The move is reminiscent of initiatives like Truckers Against Trafficking, which teachers truckers how to spot, report, and stop human trafficking incidents.

"This is a global problem that affects all our cities and communities, and we realized our drivers are uniquely positioned to make an impact," Uber's Safety Communications Lead, Tracey Breeden, told USA Today. Breeden, who is also a former police detective, added the "goal" is for this initiative to eventually expand to other countries across the globe. However, she also stipulated that such an expansion will likely take time because "we have to make it fit each country, with its own unique hotlines and support organizations."

Still, since the International Labour Organization estimates 25 million people are victims of human trafficking globally, there's no doubt this initiative is a step in the right direction.

"I first met with Uber's team over four years ago to encourage them to become involved in the fight against human trafficking before the Arizona Super Bowl. I am so pleased that today, Uber is informing all drivers in the U.S. on the warning signs of trafficking and we are seeing a tangible effect of these efforts in victims being rescued and traffickers arrested," said Cindy McCain of The McCain Institute Human Trafficking Advisory Council. "I applaud their dedication to this issue and the McCain Institute is pleased to partner with Uber to continue to educate  drivers nationally and internationally to spot the signs of human trafficking and know what steps to take if they suspect it."

Added Thorn CEO Julie Cordua in a statement, "Our recent Survivor Insights report found that two out of three of child sex trafficking survivors never knew help resources were available to them during their abuse. Partnering with Uber is an opportunity to ensure that we are attacking this issue from all sides, and today we are empowering drivers to provide help to those in crisis. When we work together we can build a world where every child can be a kid."

Though nothing about this push to help end human trafficking is required of Uber drivers, they will now be given information when they log on to the app that includes how to spot victims of trafficking. According to USA Today, signs to look for include "spotting clothing or behavior that seems inappropriate for the age; a younger rider displaying fearful emotions in the company of a fellow adult rider; tattoos that appear more like ownership branding than art; and ride requests that stop at multiple hotels for short durations."

In addition, drivers will also see best practices for reporting tips to the police and anti-trafficking support groups such as Uber partner Polaris, which operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline. "Both research and experience operating the National Human Trafficking Hotline has shown us that ride-sharing services like Uber have a significant role to play in disrupting human trafficking and helping survivors to find freedom," Bradley Miles, CEO of Polaris, said to USA Today. "Ensuring that Uber driver partners who recognize the signs of human trafficking know that the Hotline is available and can help is an important step toward turning awareness into action and making a real difference in people's lives."

And Miles isn't wrong. Per the video below, an Uber driver named Keith helped rescue a human trafficking victim in 2016 after he observed some suspicious behavior. As USA Today pointed out, despite the fact that certain technologies may make human trafficking easier, those same technologies can and are being used to thwart it.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports the number of human trafficking cases logged and reporting calls made has roughly doubled to 7,600 and 26,700, respectively, between 2012 and 2016.

"Drivers, riders and employees alike can play a key role in the fight to stop traffickers," the Uber press release concludes. "Working together with our national partners, we will utilize our innovation and technology along with the scope and scale of our global community to commit to raise awareness and empower more heroes. Working together, we can help disrupt and end human trafficking."

Cover image via Shutterstock / Jaroslav Monchak.

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