States across the country continue to make inroads to curb human trafficking. More and more states are looking to professional drivers for help.
Sex trafficking is described as one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world, generating more than $32 billion annually. It’s estimated that more than 20 million people are being trafficked worldwide. In the U.S., victims are commonly transported along the interstate highway system.
State officials have been busy in recent years acting to combat sex trafficking. At least 28 states, and Washington, D.C., have adopted at least in part a statewide model created by the Iowa Motor Vehicle Enforcement/Department of Transportation to use weigh stations, ports of entry, rest stops, and state patrols to get the word out about trafficking.
In July 2016, Ohio became the first state to implement mandatory training via Truckers Against Trafficking.
TAT is a nonprofit organization that educates trucking and travel plaza industry members on domestic sex trafficking. The group touts 300,000 trucking industry members registered as TAT trained through their website.
All new commercial drivers in Ohio are provided a one-hour training program. Every driver issued a CDL in the state is also given a TAT wallet card that contains information on how to report a tip to law enforcement when suspecting human trafficking activities.
The training, however, is not required by state law.
A program implemented this spring in Pennsylvania is intended to combat trafficking. Three years ago the state enacted a rule to define human trafficking and give law enforcement tools described as necessary to go after traffickers.
The new program authorizes the state DOT to train staff at driver’s licensing centers to notice signs of a potential trafficking situation. The agency is also distributing wallet cards to CDL holders and applicants.
“Human trafficking has sadly become a worldwide problem ...” PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards said in a released statement. “We at PennDOT are doing our part to help spot victims and get them assistance.”
The Minnesota Department of Transportation is also taking action. The agency is installing posters in 41 rest areas across the state to educate travelers about human trafficking and to encourage them to report suspicious activity.
The posters include guidelines on how to recognize signs of human trafficking and potential victims and a toll-free hotline to report any suspicious activity.
MnDOT Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said action is necessary due to the state’s ranking third nationally in human trafficking cases.
In addition to states enacting policy changes and other steps intended to fight trafficking, state lawmakers are also taking steps to help.
A new law in Arkansas enacts a first-of-its-kind statute to require commercial driver’s licensing tie-ins with efforts to combat trafficking. Specifically, HB1923 puts in place a training course on human trafficking for CDL applicants and truckers renewing their licenses.
Truckers have two options to get trained: Take a course hosted by the Arkansas State Police or by a third-party group endorsed by troopers, or take a TAT online course.
The course is free.
Kansas and Texas have enacted the same rule in recent weeks.
Already in effect, the Texas law requires training in identifying and reporting trafficking. It now moves to the House.
Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, points out that in 2016 Texas had the second highest number of human trafficking victims with 670 cases reported. California led the nation with 1,323 cases.
Garcia said truck drivers are in a unique position to make a difference and stop traffickers who seek to exploit victims and the transportation system for their personal gain.
“We have nearly 200,000 truck drivers in the state of Texas that can be our eyes and ears on the road and in places like motels and truck stops where victims are being exploited every day,” Garcia said in recent remarks.
The Kansas law takes effect July 1. TAT’s Kylla Lanier provided testimony to legislators as the bill made its way through the statehouse. She pointed out that truck drivers made nearly 1,600 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center during the most recent one-year period.
Lanier added that there is much more to be done.
“If every driver, prior to hitting the road, had this life-saving information and training, imagine how many more calls will be made, imagine how many victims will be recovered out of this horrible reality, how many perpetrators – both the traffickers and the buyers of commercial sex – will be arrested.”
The Kansas Department of Revenue estimates the training will cost the state $77,558 in the next fiscal year.
Maine lawmakers approved an amended bill to combat trafficking. As introduced, the bill required CDL applicants and truckers renewing their licenses to complete a training course.
The Maine Motor Transport Association advocated for the bill’s passage. Timothy Doyle, the group’s vice president, cautioned lawmakers that any training mandate could conflict with federal regulations on entry-level driver training that states must comply with in the coming years.
The final version of the legislation does not mandate training. Instead, it simply requires truckers to be provided with information about trafficking and how to report suspicious activities.
The law took effect without the governor’s signature.
Still active in New Jersey is a bill to require CDL applicants and truckers renewing their licenses to undergo training.
Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said the bill will enlist the help of those who are often frontline witnesses to trafficking – whether they realize it or not.
“I’m eager for us to get this law on the books because I think truckers can and will be a great ally in this fight,” Singleton stated.
The training course would be reviewed at least every two years and modified if necessary.
Anyone who suspects human trafficking is taking place anywhere around the country can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888 and report what they know.
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