Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” In the context of human trafficking, professional truck drivers have the potential to be a hero in the life of a victim trafficked into the sex trade simply by taking a second look and making a phone call. Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), a non-profit that recently launched in Canada, is training members of the commercial vehicle industry to do just that, and in doing so, is raising up a mobile army out on Canadian roads to combat this heinous crime.
Human trafficking is often described as one of the worst human rights violations of our time, typically showing up in the form of forced labor or sexual exploitation and preying on the nation’s most vulnerable. While individuals such as children in foster care, homeless youth, those from broken homes, and LGBTQ populations are at high risk, no one – male and female alike – is immune from the tactics that traffickers use to recruit and keep their victims compliant. The International Labour Organization reports that human trafficking is a US$150 billion criminal activity, with an estimated 40 million enslaved persons globally. This means there are more slaves today than at any other point in the history of the world. It is happening at an alarming rate in Canada. The Department of Justice reported that 90% of human trafficking cases involved domestic victims.
Traffickers use highly abusive and, often sophisticated, psychological means to recruit and keep their victims under their control. Pimps don’t need physical chains or locked doors, because they utilize invisible chains of force, fraud, and coercion. Victims are raped, gang raped, beaten, electrocuted, forced into drug addiction, tortured, knifed and shot. Fraud takes place any time there is lying or any time false promises are made. Examples of this include advertisements for modeling careers that ultimately lead to a person being exploited into the sex trade or agreements of citizenship in exchange for working long hours for little to no pay.
By far, the most powerful means that traffickers use is coercion. This consists of threats to life, threats to safety and threats to family members, as well as more subtle psychological abuses that prey on a victim’s desire for love and acceptance and to have their basic needs met. Because the pimp often plays the ‘daddy’ or ‘boyfriend’ role in the life of a victim, these abuses are especially insidious, and a victim many times doesn’t self-identify as a victim.
Ontario survivor and victim advocate Karly Church describes her years of being enslaved in prostitution in this way, “It was the most traumatic experience of my life. There was some physical violence in my situation, and I thought, ‘If I walk out of this door and they catch me, what are they going to do to me?’”
While the scope of human trafficking is sizeable, professional truck drivers are uniquely positioned to make a difference in fighting this horrific crime. Drivers often travel known high-incident corridors (see graphic) within Canada and stop in places where victims are commonly recruited and sold, such as truck stops, rest areas, travel plazas, parking lots and hotels/motels. If all drivers were trained and knew what to look for and immediately made a phone call to report suspicious activity, imagine how many victims could be recovered and how many pimps arrested! This is TAT’s goal.
Recognizing that professional drivers can provide an extra set of eyes and ears out on the road and be a major asset for law enforcement, TAT educates, equips, empowers, and mobilizes members of the trucking, bus, and energy industries to combat human trafficking as part of their regular jobs. TAT partners with trucking companies who train their employees using a 26-minute video and a brief wallet card webinar. These tools equip them to recognize signs they might be face-to-face with a trafficking victim and know how to report it. Here are some red flags and questions to ask if you suspect human trafficking:
• Does the individual know where he/she is?
• Are they allowed to speak for themselves or carry their own identification?
• Is there CB chatter about ‘commercial company’ or flashing lights indicating a buyer?
• Are there any signs of tattooing or branding, often on the person’s neck?
• Is there any talk of making a quota?
• Any signs of abuse or malnutrition?
• Can you see a pimp controlling a situation?
If there’s immediate danger, call 911 to report what you are seeing. After that initial call, it’s important to then call the Human Trafficking Hotline (1-833-900-1010 in Canada /1-888-3737-888 in the U.S.) to report the activity. The Hotline collects data to identify trends and patterns that helps prevention and intervention efforts. If you are unsure if what you are seeing is human trafficking, make an immediate call to the Hotline and let their trained staff ascertain if law enforcement needs to be brought into a situation. All calls can be made anonymously and confidentially. In a case where a driver is uncertain, it’s better to make the call and have it turn out to be a false alarm than to not make the call and risk that a victim continues to endure a life of sexual slavery.
Traffickers are counting on our ignorance and our disinterest – that truck drivers, truck stop personnel and others on the front line of this crime would see a victim being sold and turn a blind eye because they think ‘she’s just a prostitute.’ The reality is that many of those who look like they are ‘just prostitutes’ are not there of their own free will. They are victims – someone’s daughter and granddaughter – in need of help and a little kindness. TAT’s message is simple: Take a second look. Make a phone call. Truly, as Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested, being a hero could be a matter of being brave for five more minutes.
Visit www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org for information on how to become a trained Trucker Against Trafficking or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on training your fleet.
Heather Fry is the Canada Director for Truckers Against Trafficking, a 501c3 that exists to educate, equip, empower and mobilize the trucking, bus, and energy industries to combat human trafficking as part of their regular jobs. Founder and former Executive Director of Impact Orphans, Heather has been working on behalf of the vulnerable and exploited for over a decade.