NATSO discusses efforts to combat human trafficking with Homeland Security Committee

 Chair of the House's Homeland Security Committee, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul. (Photo/Slate)
Chair of the House’s Homeland Security Committee, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul. (Photo/Slate)

Yesterday NATSO visited the House Committee on Homeland Security to discuss the insidious and pervasive issue of human trafficking. Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman, vice president of public affairs for NATSO, tells FreightWaves they were invited to participate as an example of the positive role that the private sector can play in the fight.

If you haven’t heard of them, NATSO is the trade association of America’s travel plaza and truckstop industry. Founded in 1960, NATSO has a great deal of influence. Their function is three-fold: (1) represent the industry’s legislative and regulatory matters; (2) serve as the official information source on the diverse travel plaza and truckstop industry; and (3) promote education to the industry in general.

NATSO Foundation president Lisa Mullings told members of the House Committee on Homeland Security that the truckstop and travel plaza industry plays a vital role in combating human trafficking that takes place along the nation’s Interstate Highway System.

“As an industry, our primary goal was not only to rally behind an important cause but also to have a real impact,” said Mullings. “The multi-faceted approach taken by the truckstop and travel plaza industry illustrates that private enterprise can make a consequential difference in the fight against human trafficking. When companies take the time to learn about it and invest resources into combatting it, it can make a real difference in changing lives for the better.”

Mullings briefed the House Homeland Security Committee about the multi-pronged trafficking initiative undertaken by NATSO. Specifically, Mullings cited the NATSO Foundation’s partnership with the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign to distribute public awareness materials that truckstops can post in their locations.

As an industry that caters to millions of travelers every year, truckstops and travel plazas and their employees are in a key position to help identify and report suspected incidents of human trafficking. Although there is no official estimate for the total number of U.S. human trafficking victims, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of adults and minors are victims of human trafficking each year in the United States alone — many of whom are moved from state to state along our Interstate Highway System.

“Our partnership with DHS and the law enforcement community helps ensure that the millions of Americans who stop at truckstops and travel plazas nationwide are educated about human trafficking and able to assist in the transportation sector’s fight against this crime,” Mullings said.

NATSO has been helping members of the truckstop and travel plaza community engage in the fight against human trafficking since 2012. The NATSO Foundation’s goal is to provide the truckstop and travel plaza industry with the necessary tools to train owners, operators and employees so that those individuals are equipped to help if they encounter a victim of this horrible crime.

NATSO tells FreightWaves the training is effective, citing two specific incidents. In 2013, a security guard trained by one of our members spotted a suspicious car in a parking lot and called authorities. A man ultimately determined to be a perpetrator was arrested and sentenced to 20-plus years in prison for human trafficking.

In 2015, a trained employee spotted a suspicious car in a parking lot and called the authorities. His call led to the arrest of three people. Nine female victims were rescued.

NASTSO has also heard from truckstop operators that because of their training, employees have been instrumental in saving a number of runaway youths — one of the most at-risk demographic groups for human trafficking.

For the past two years NATSO also provides a free online course titled, “The Role of Truckstops in Combating Human Trafficking” to help truckstops and travel plazas train their staff in recognizing and responding to suspected incidents. While they don’t have the exact number on how many employees their industry has trained, they “know it to be in the hundreds of thousands.”

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.