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Small Fleet keynote: How truck drivers can help prevent human trafficking

‘The fact that you’re willing to sit there and take a second look really could mean the difference, honestly, between life and death’

FreightWaves' Grace Sharkey (left) chats with Laura Cyrus (right) of Truckers Against Trafficking. (Image: FreightWaves)

Truck drivers may be the perfect watchdogs for human trafficking because of the nature of the job — they travel many places and can have a good sense when something feels out of place, according to Laura Cyrus, director of corporate engagement for Truckers Against Trafficking.

“We know truck drivers are in and out of places where, unfortunately, traffickers are exploiting their victims. We’re talking about — this list is not exhaustive — truck stops, rest areas, hotels, motels, places of business. We’ve had cases where drivers were delivering their load and they were approached by victims,” Cyrus said in a keynote chat Wednesday during FreightWaves’ Small Fleet & Owner-Operator Summit. 

Cyrus estimates via her group’s toll-free hotline to report potential human trafficking incidents that truck drivers have helped to identify more than 1,300 victims in the United States alone. That doesn’t include truck drivers who may have called 911 instead or contacted local authorities.

Truckers Against Trafficking is now working in Canada, and the organization’s model has been replicated in Mexico, according to Cyrus. 

To keep an eye out for potential human trafficking situations, Cyrus offered FreightWaves some tips.

Two red flags are if truck drivers spot a minor that he or she believes may be engaged in commercial sex or if truckers spot someone who may be in control of a pimp. In that scenario, victims may be either gender and represent various ages. Pimps also can be male or female. 

Truck drivers can also keep an eye out for people who might be knocking on truck doors and soliciting or people who might have tattoos that could indicate ownership, like numbers or a barcode. A potential victim might also have a lack of awareness of his or her surroundings, Cyrus said. 

Even package delivery drivers can be on the lookout for human trafficking, particularly if they are familiar with certain neighborhoods, see bars on windows or can sense something isn’t right, Cyrus said. 

“A simple question could be, ‘Hey, does your family know where you are?’” Cyrus said.

If a truck driver sees a red flag, he or she should not approach the trafficker or try to separate the victim. Instead, the truck driver should call 911 or the local nonemergency law enforcement phone number, depending on the situation’s urgency. Truck drivers may also call the national human trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888.

Cyrus also encourages truck drivers to download her organization’s app, which will have lists of red flags and case studies, as well as links to training videos.

“We’re giving language, we’re giving education to a group of people that can then call and make an educated statement and say, ‘I believe this is human trafficking because I’m seeing X, Y and Z red flags.’ … That helps law enforcement to prepare, to know and ask more questions,” Cyrus said.

She urged truck drivers to pay attention to their gut feelings and notify authorities sooner rather than later since “time is of the essence in these cases.”

“The fact that you’re willing to sit there and take a second look really could mean the difference, honestly, between life and death,” Cyrus said.

To learn more about Truckers Against Trafficking, click here.

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.