By Heather Larson
While parked at a truck stop, professional driver Keith was solicited for commercial sex by four different women, two of whom looked under age. On high alert because of his Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) training, he later noticed those four individuals getting out of the same car. Several times an hour, the driver of that vehicle moved it so he could keep an eye on the women. Because something seemed off, Keith called the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and an advocate urged him to also call 911 and report what he’d seen. Law enforcement arrived quickly and handled the situation.
If Keith believed the myth that all prostitutes made the decision to work in sex trade and none were coerced, the outcome of this encounter would have been different.
“The age when someone begins in prostitution—and whether they are under pimp control— tells you the degree to which it’s a choice or an exploitation,” said Annie Sovcik, program director for Busing on the Lookout (BOTL). “Any minor engaged in a commercial sex act is a human trafficking victim by definition of federal law.”
Although a broad cultural stereotype, it’s also fictitious that all pimps or traffickers look like those portrayed on TV, said Sovcik. They can be any gender, and they don’t necessarily share a common appearance.
Human trafficking expert witness Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco agreed, as nobody knows the average demographics of either the offenders or the victims.
Other commonly held misbeliefs include:
- Traffickers always use physical force or restraint. Often, they exploit their victims with threats and psychological abuse.
- When given a chance, victims will try to escape. Human trafficking prey may be too scared or attached to their traffickers to leave them.
- Victims only come from countries outside the U.S. Anyone is a target and foreign-born individuals with an uncertain immigration status are very vulnerable.
Because of the high incidence of human trafficking, the American Bus Association wants to help stop it. That’s why it is partnering with BOTL. Training for BOTL consists of watching a 30-minute video designed to alert drivers (as well as terminal workers, maintenance staff, dispatch operators, ticket counter personnel, and more) to the characteristics often shown by the victims. After viewing the video, drivers are given wallet cards to carry with them as a reminder of what to look for and the number to call if they spot something unusual.
In the upcoming issues of The Insider, we’ll talk about the characteristics victims might have and look at the hopes for BOTL from different perspectives, including law enforcement, schools, and public transit.
Heather Larson writes about a variety of business issues from her office in Tacoma, Wash.