Though perpetuated in the shadow of society, human trafficking is a $ 32 billion industry worldwide.
Truck stops offer truckers and general motorists rest and convenience after a long day of driving, but can also be hubs for sex traffickers and their victims. While teenagers, boys and girls are being transported from city to city, truck stops serve as natural stopping points on their routes – an unintentional but optimal place for crime.
Sgt.Harman Chahal, Wisconsin State Patrol, and Mark Barlar, Director of Risk Services at Reliance Partners, urge the trucking community to look out for suspicious activity involving minors and sketchy people at truck stops.
It is important to distinguish between a sex worker and a victim of the sex trafficking. Unlike prostitutes who willingly engage in sexual activity, victims of sex trafficking are reluctant to work on the streets, mostly against their will. As victims of modern slavery, these children and young adults should be treated as victims rather than sex workers.
Victims can be easy to identify
At truck stops, rest areas and parking lots, Chahal advises truck drivers to look out for people who are inappropriately dressed. For example, two people walking around a truck wearing seasonal clothing – a man properly dressed for the cold and a young girl wearing shorts and a bikini top – should raise their eyebrows.
A person who appears to be waiting for someone to pick them up, especially if they feel uncomfortable or out of place, is also a red flag. Standing in a parking lot shouldn’t immediately be viewed as suspicious, but Chahal notes that something is definitely wrong if they can’t remember who is picking them up or where they are going.
Understand that victims may not seek help
While the victims may appear alone, Chahal notes that kidnappers often watch from a distance.
“Victims of human trafficking are monitored and watched remotely by their traffickers most of the time,” she said. “They should be seen, not heard. It is a psychological control tool. “
This, in turn, leaves victims feeling isolated and unable to seek help, even when well-meaning bystanders or even police officers are present. Often, perpetrators outrageously lie to their prisoners and warn them that their participation in sexual acts – even against their will – will most certainly land them behind bars.
“[Victims] I think if they go to the cops, the trafficker can [cause harm] to their families, ”said Chahal. “I had a case where a girl was very close to her dog. The trafficker used this against her and warned that if she went to the police he would kill her dog. Because of this, she never went to the police. “
But traffickers also use a twisted form of affection as a means of control. Since the victims often come from broken families, the promise of good food, clothing, and makeover is enough to deter some from breaking their silence.
“They are afraid of what could happen if they turn to law enforcement. Also, they are dealing with someone who came up to them and told them, “I will take care of you,” said Chahal. “These are things that they did not get from their families. When they receive these things from their” person “, it is mentally and psychologically difficult for them to get out of this situation easily.”
Intervening may not be the best idea
Chahal does not recommend intervening directly when suspicious circumstances arise as both the viewer and the victim could be harmed and hamper an ongoing investigation. Instead, it encourages affected drivers to discreetly collect as much information as possible about the descriptions of each potential victim and trafficker, including vehicle information such as license plate number.
“Gather as much information as you can and then immediately call 911 if you think it is an emergency or call the national human trafficking line,” Chahal said.
Traffickers follow the money on the map
JJIE states that the four largest states of human trafficking are California, Nevada, Texas, and New York. However, this is not just a big city problem. Chahal warns that the problem persists in cities big and small across the country.
Chahal works in the Milwaukee area and outlines the interstate corridors between Madison, Wisconsin and Chicago as primary areas for human trafficking activities. She also notes that the spike trade is increasing in areas hosting major events like the Super Bowl. This attracts crowds, which in turn brings together potential high-paying customers.
Over a seven-day period last month, Undercover MPs caught 75 pimps and panties in a sting known as Operation Game Over in Tampa, Florida – this year’s host city for the NFL’s grand finale. The operation saved six trafficking victims.
Lack of awareness hinders recognition
Barlar, who also served with the Wisconsin State Patrol for 22 years, admits he was not fully aware of the trading activity that lurked at truck stops early in his career. It was only when he was trained on the matter that he felt able to identify such situations. So he’s encouraging more law enforcement officers and members of the trucking community to join the cause.
“Many truck drivers do not understand, just like long enforcement, that girls are usually not there of their own accord in such situations. Usually there is someone behind the scenes who makes them do it, ”said Barlar. “The training really opened my eyes to the full scope of human trafficking.”
However, many take an active role in preventing human trafficking. Chahal was at the forefront of human trafficking awareness in her home state of Wisconsin, most recently advocating training gas station and convenience store staff on how to identify victims. This was part of a collaboration between the Wisconsin State Patrol, the Wisconsin Attorney General, last year. the Department of Children and Families and Wisconsins Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.
Truckers are also taking action against human trafficking
Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) trains and empowers members of the trucking, bus and energy industries to help law enforcement fight human trafficking. The nonprofit relies on the eyes and ears of its large volunteer network of professional drivers to identify and report potential human trafficking.
TAT had trained 1,014,367 people by 2020, including 1,586 law enforcement officers and 117,641 members of the bus industry. Its members reportedly made 2,692 calls to the National Trafficking Hotline to investigate 708 likely cases of human trafficking, which ultimately resulted in the identification of 1,296 victims.
Chahal encourages truck stop owners and convenience store employees to post TAT awareness posters in their facilities. Inquiries for posters and other materials can be found here.
Witnesses wishing to report potential human trafficking or victims in need of assistance are urged to call 911 for immediate emergencies and the national human trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888.
The employees can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week and the calls are confidential.
For more FreightWaves content from Jack Glenn, click here.
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