The eyes and ears of a nation’s highways are an important defence against the sex industry
Mobile sex trafficking occurs all across the United States but an American based program called Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) is enlisting truckers to help fight back. Although sex trafficking also occurs in Alberta truck stops, a lack of provincial resources means there are no similar programs. Because of this, mobile sex trafficking is often overlooked.
TAT started in 2009 and, according to their website their mission is to “educate, equip, empower and mobilize the members of the trucking industry to fight human trafficking as part of their everyday jobs.”
The organization realized that truckers, as “the eyes and ears of the nation’s highways,” could be an invaluable resource to their cause. So they started focusing on educating the seven million members of the American trucking industry on the realities of sex trafficking.
“Truckers had been seeing kids and adults selling sex along the highways for years, but they didn’t realize it was forced prostitution in the majority of cases,” says Lyn Thompson, communications specialist and co-founder of TAT. “They didn’t really know what they were seeing.”
Over 300,000 trucks are registered on TAT’s website as “certified truckers against trafficking” and calls made by truckers to the National Human Trafficking Hotline are increasing each year. Thompson says members of the trucking industry have been quite receptive to TAT’s initiatives.
“We know truckers who are no longer ignoring the knocks on their cab doors at night, but are talking to the people who knock to determine if they are trafficking victims needing help,” she says.
In Alberta, the response to this kind of sex trafficking education hasn’t been as progressive. In 2013 the Action Coalition on Human Trafficking (ACT) ran a brief campaign, passing out materials with information on human trafficking from an Ottawa based anti-human trafficking organization named PACT (Persons Against the Crime of Human Trafficking).
Manager of communications and development at ACT Alberta Karen McCrae says not all truckers got on board with the initiative.
“We found that there was a certain degree of resistance to putting the materials up in truck stops,” she says. “Some truck stops were really into it. They really liked the idea but in some cases they were pretty hesitant.”
Despite the hesitation, ACT was able to pass out all of their materials. But when they ran out, the project was over.
“That’s one of the problems we face all the time in our work, it’s all project-based,” says McCrae.
With limited resources it’s more valuable to educate stakeholders such as healthcare providers or law enforcement on identifying victims of human trafficking.
“We find that in our experience there’s a higher likelihood that more strategically positioned individuals will come into contact with victims of trafficking,” says McCrae.
However in the U.S., the high rate that truckers come into contact with human trafficking victims is exactly why TAT was started.
Thompson says that that the trucking community is invaluable help seeing trafficking as it is happening and reporting it.
“They were already trained to be observant,” she says.
Truckers against Trafficking has had measurable success.. Victims have been recovered and now tell their stories of survival as a part of the TAT training process.
“We wanted survivors to not only tell their story but provide training that would help police and truckers have a better understanding of the trauma they endured and how best to work with them,” says Thompson.
TAT provides wallet cards printed in French for Canadian truckers long-hauling across the border but Thompson says Canada needs its own program. “Canada needs it’s own hotline and then a dedicated organization to come alongside the trucking industry in your country to help your drivers become effective front-line responders in the war against this heinous crime," she says.
- By Cassandra Woods