By Debbie Curtis
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Human trafficking is not something many people want to think about. Yet it exists in everyday places like bus terminals and truck stops, in every state in America.
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to compel someone to engage in commercial sex or forced labor. Anyone who is under the age of 18 and engaging in commercial sex, regardless of the use of force, fraud or coercion, is considered a victim.
Some are as young as 9 years old. Some are adults. Some are transported from place to place so they can never seek help, while others, like Theresa Flores, a survivor and campaigner against sex trafficking, attended school every day.
Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) is an organization dedicated to educating truck drivers about human trafficking. As soon as the partnership between TAT and the federally funded Polaris Project national hotline went into effect, there was a significant increase in the number of calls.
Now, under the umbrella of TAT, a new program, Busing on the Lookout (BOTL), hopes to achieve the same results with the bus industry.
“We have a training video that just became available the beginning of this year,” said Annie Sovcik, program director for BOTL. “We’re looking at partnering with bus companies and different busing associations like ABA (American Bus Association) and UMA (United Motorcoach Association), and getting them to help us promote the program and adopt our training for their members.
“So far, the response has been really, really positive,” Sovcik said.
Kendis Paris, executive director of Truckers Against Trafficking, said when the organization first started in 2009, there wasn’t much awareness.
“But the trucking industry realized that they could truly be part of the solution,” Paris said. “Truckers could eventually be a global army that will help stop human trafficking. But first, we needed a cultural shift. When people see scantily clad young women in parking lots they think, ‘It’s just prostitution.’
“We need to change that to, ‘I’m looking at a victim of trafficking.’ The broader cultural shift is when we’re talking about adult victims. People think, ‘Well, she could leave if she wanted to.’ We want to help people understand the components of force, fraud and coercion and how traffickers keep their victims compliant and under a psychological hold. These are invisible chains. These people can’t just walk away or ask for help.”
The 30-minute training video on https://www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org/ reviews what the “red flags” are and tells drivers what to do if they see something. BOTL will work with companies on integrating the video, which is also available as a DVD, into their training. More than 500,000 truckers have been trained.
“We want every person in the bus industry, every driver, every terminal employee, to have our free wallet card with them,” Sovcik said. “The card has the hotline number and reminders of what human trafficking is, what to look for and what information law enforcement needs. We’ll mail it for free, and we’re working on having an app developed with the same information.
“We are hoping that this information will eventually be included as part of each state’s school bus driver training and that it will count toward the hours of education that they need to drive a bus.”
Paris said that information really makes a difference.
“We just had an email today from a small trucking company based in Kentucky,” she said. “Their driver was in California and helped a young girl at a truck stop who was being trafficked. He’s now being highlighted in their employee spotlight.
“That girl is so thankful that the driver knew what to do and who to call. This is what happens with a mobile army, and we hope to have the same result in the bus industry.”
For more information about BOTL, go to https://www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org/ and click on the “Programs” tab. The hotline number to report the possibility of human trafficking is 1-888-3737-888 in the U.S. and 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) in Canada. To learn more about Theresa Flores and how she is now helping others, go to: https://www.traffickfree.com/