In a year that has seen the profile of America’s truck drivers raised like never before, a new television series has cast a shadow over that image.
“Big Sky,” a police drama that debuted on ABC last Tuesday, is focused on a private detective who teams with an ex-police officer to track down a serial killer who happens to be an over-the-road truck driver. The series has drawn criticism from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, NATSO and Truckers Against Trafficking for its portrayal of truck drivers.
“As a representative of the more than 7.4 million professionals in the trucking industry, we are deeply concerned that your network would produce ‘Big Sky,’ a television series that depicts a professional truck driver as a serial killer,” ATA wrote in a letter addressed to series producer David E. Kelley and Michaela Zukowski, head of entertainment for ABC Big Sky.
“During the past several months, our nation’s truck drivers have been on the front lines of the pandemic guaranteeing shelves are filled, life-saving medicine is delivered, gas tanks are full and personal protection equipment is supplied to keep Americans safe,” the letter went on. “Every single day throughout the pandemic, truck drivers have delivered. And the American people have recognized truckers as heroes of the highway.”
If you think you have spotted a victim of human trafficking,
call the National Human Trafficking Hotline:
The show focuses on private detectives Cassie Dewell (played by Kylie Bunbury) and Cody Hoyt (Ryan Phillippe), who join forces with Hoyt’s estranged wife and ex-cop, Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick), to search for two sisters who have gone missing. Ronald Pergman (Brian Geraghty), described as a 38-year-old, unmarried truck driver, kidnapped the women along with another from a local truck stop. A Montana state trooper tells Cody Hoyt that the women are not the first to go missing from the area.
Cody Hoyt tells the trooper, Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch), that the kidnapper may be a trucker involved in human trafficking.
For the trucking industry, the plot line hits too close to home and is leaving a stain on efforts the industry has undertaken in the past decade to raise awareness of and fight human trafficking.
“In a year when so many Americans have had their eyes opened to the invaluable role professional drivers play in keeping our country moving, and given the fact that the trucking industry has, for over a decade, been collectively uniting to combat the evils of human trafficking, ‘Big Sky’ not only misses the mark but also reinforces harmful stereotypes. It’s time we hold the entertainment industry to a higher standard,” Kendis Paris, executive director and co-founder of Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), told FreightWaves.
TAT, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, works to raise awareness of human trafficking and has partnered with some of the largest trucking companies and industry stakeholders to educate drivers on how to identify potential victims. ATA, OOIDA, the Truckload Carriers Association, all 50 state trucking associations and companies including Ryder, Werner, J.B. Hunt, TA/Petro, UPS and Bridgestone have partnerships with TAT.
Founded in 2009, TAT’s efforts since have resulted in more than 2,625 calls from the trucking industry to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888). Those calls have identified 694 cases of sex trafficking involving 1,278 victims, the group said. Nearly 1 million trucking industry personnel have been TAT trained to spot human trafficking victims.
TAT is working to build partnerships between truck stop chains and travel plazas and law enforcement to investigate suspected cases of human trafficking. The group also worked with the Iowa Department of Transportation to utilize weigh stations, rest stops and the state patrol to develop a model program to educate the community and train law enforcement on how to gain entry points into the trucking industry. That model has now been adopted by 48 states and Washington, D.C., and 12 states have adopted TAT training for all CDL holders.
TAT was awarded the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons in 2019 and the Suzanne McDaniel Memorial Award for Public Awareness as part of the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus Awards in 2015. It was also chosen as one of the 100 Best Practices to fight human trafficking by the United Nations.
Learn more about human trafficking
Department of Homeland Security: https://www.dhs.gov/topic/human-trafficking
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: http://www.missingkids.com/CSTT
Polaris Project: http://www.polarisproject.org/
Truckers Against Trafficking: http://www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org
Still, “Big Sky” is leaving a big black eye on an industry that has fought so hard to improve its image, and more specifically, to fight back against human trafficking.
“We have long been supportive of Truckers Against Trafficking. It’s hard to say what effect, if any, that a work of fiction would have on an industry [but] one would hope that an author would rely upon more thorough research than what appears to have been done,” Norita Taylor, spokesperson for OOIDA, said.
The ATA has pushed the #ThankaTrucker program through its Trucking Moves America Forward (TMAF) program and is active in several programs designed to improve the image of truck drivers, including its Trucking Cares Foundation and efforts to fight human trafficking.
In a 2019 survey, TMAF found that 74% of Americans believed the trucking industry played an important role in the nation’s economy and 70% had an “overwhelmingly positive” view of the industry’s safety record.
NATSO, the association representing truck stops and travel plazas, is active in efforts to combat human trafficking.
The NATSO Foundation has an online learning tool designed to teach truck stop owners, operators and employees how to respond if they suspect human trafficking. The course is available free of charge to any member of the truckstop and travel plaza community at https://www.natso.com/onlinelearning.
The foundation has made a “Combating Human Trafficking” tool kit available as well, including awareness posters and laws across all 50 states. NATSO partners with the Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking, Truckers Against Trafficking and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.