States taking steps to combat human trafficking

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor

States across the country are making inroads to curb human trafficking. Some states detail help from professional drivers.

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 now 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.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced in March a new program 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.”

In addition to states enacting policy changes 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.

Kansas, Maine and Texas are among the states pursuing the same rule.

The Texas Senate voted to advance a bill to the House to require training in identifying and reporting trafficking.

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 prepared remarks.

TAT’s Kylla Lanier provided testimony to Kansas legislators during a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that truck drivers made nearly 1,600 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center during the most recent one-year period.

Lanier testified 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 state Senate unanimously approved forwarding the bill to the House.

In Maine, the Transportation Committee is also reviewing legislation to implement the requirement.

Anyone who suspects human trafficking is taking place can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888 and report what they know. LL