Congress presses forward with human trafficking legislation

(Photo: Jeff Turner, Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Jeff Turner, Wikimedia Commons)

The United States Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has turned its attention to  the trucking industry in a concerted effort to stop human trafficking, The Hill reports. A pair of bipartisan bills have been approved targeting the role trucking plays in trafficking.

This Committee implied that truckers and freight forwarders have an obligation to participate in stopping human trafficking. As one of the co-sponsors of the bills, Sen. Ann Klobuchar (D-MN) explained the importance of the truckers’ presence on the road, “As our eyes and ears on the road, truckers and commercial drivers are often the first line of defense against human trafficking.” She added, “By providing training to recognize and report trafficking, we can empower them to prevent this heinous crime across the country.”

The proposed bills are the No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act and the Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act. The first bill aims to prohibit individuals from driving commercial vehiclesever again if they are convicted of being involved in activities related to a human trafficking ring. The second bill would appoint a “human trafficking prevention coordinator” alongside an advisory committee against human trafficking.

WSBT.com reported one of the bills co-sponsored looked like a knee-jerk reaction to the news of smuggled immigrants that died in a trailer parked at a Walmart. The chairperson of the Committee that sponsored the bills, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), praised the passage of the bills, labeling the move “an important step” against human trafficking. The lawmakers that participated in passing these bills reiterated how human trafficking has become a human rights crisis that is about to get out of hand.

Often, those smuggled into this country end up serving as prostitutes to pay off their “debt.” This, among other impacts of human trafficking, was the problem highlighted in the report by WSBT.com. This is the kind of awareness that Cathy Knauf of the Southwestern Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force hopes to address.

Rest stops is where Knauf told WSBT.com truck drivers “come in contact with those being trafficked.”

Knauf did not mince her words. “One of the things that happened with the profession of truck drivers is that there is often sex going on in places like a truck stop.” The awareness of this could possibly lead to fewer incidents of forced prostitution as a by-product of human trafficking. 

Data from the non-government organization Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) backed up these claims in a research paper posted on its official website. Human trafficking occurs in all 50 states involving mostly underage girls. These girls end up as statistics added to the 20.9 million victims of slavery all over the world, the paper says. Most of them get “lured, kidnapped, or otherwise coerced into forced labor or commercial sex.” This pushed TAT to label these activities as “forced commercial sexual activity.”

Among the 6 activities that TAT enumerates on its Programs Page, only one of them involves state governments. Dubbed State-Based Initiatives, TAT mobilizes the right government agencies to work with trucking industry-related outreach work done by the Iowa Motor Vehicle Enforcement Agency, to name one state agency. Notable activities from that partnerships are training programs provided to the law enforcement agencies with specialization against human trafficking and information dissemination through “safety compliance meetings.”

In Illinois, there is awareness, but not enough to curb the activities as reported by WREX.com. According to Maureen Mostacci, board member of the Rockford Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, “If you can be alerted and stop them in the process, that’s going to do a lot for catching some of these individuals.”

She was referring to a statement provided by Paul Johnson, safety manager for R.L. Leek about semi drivers not stopping any wrongdoing that they see. He elaborated by saying “When they’re tied down, they’re losing money, so they just turn the other way and keep on going; they don’t say a word.” The lack of officers to keep watch is compounded by truck drivers unwilling to get involved.