By Annie Sovcik, director of Busing on the Lookout
Modern-day slavery — or human trafficking — is a global problem in which people are illegally bought and sold for forced labor or commercial sex. Victims of trafficking may be found in various legitimate businesses, as traffickers exploit those businesses for their personal gain. Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces, including in and connected to casinos and buses.
Survivors of sex trafficking have reported their traffickers using casinos as a meeting place for buyers who were arranged online or as a venue to solicit prospective buyers, particularly when the casino is combined with a hotel. Casinos can also be a refuge for victims, offering a secure place where they can seek help or attempt to exit their situation. Similarly, for the charter buses and scheduled service bus lines that carry patrons to and from casinos, bus employees may come into contact with trafficking victims who are being transported on those buses or see the bus as a lifeline for escape.
Traffickers take victims wherever they can make money, and they are counting on the rest of us to not pay attention, not know what to do, or to write off a person being sold as “just a prostitute.”
As Survivor-Leader Annika Huff explained, “When I was being trafficked, people assumed I was a prostitute … I remember thinking there were three groups of people: the men who looked at me as if I were a product to buy, the people who looked at me like I was the trash of the earth, and the people who tried to pretend I was invisible. I had to go find the men who would want to buy me in the casinos. My life was in danger if I didn't make money for my trafficker.”
Busing on the Lookout (BOTL), a program of Truckers Against Trafficking and a partner of the American Bus Association, is striving to make sure that all members of the bus industry – commercial and school – are empowered with information about human trafficking and equipped with the tools they need to report it effectively if they come into contact with a potential victim or notice indicators that trafficking is occurring around them. BOTL’s free training resources are primarily comprised of a 30-minute, industry-specific training video and an accompanying wallet card or app.
As most states limit casinos to certain geographic areas, gaming towns are scattered throughout the United States, and many bus companies specialize in transporting casino patrons to those towns. Recognizing this connection, BOTL is working to close loopholes to traffickers at the intersection between buses and casinos and has developed a new free resource, “Casinos Combating Human Trafficking: A Toolkit for Casinos & Bus Companies,” to serve as a guide for companies seeking to implement training, post public awareness materials and adopt anti-trafficking-in-persons policies.
Traffickers prey upon vulnerability and, in doing so, they take advantage of legitimate businesses to further their illegal activities and reap huge profits off the backs of the people they are enslaving and exploiting. From transportation to hospitality to tourism to entertainment, ABA members all have a role to play in the fight to end human trafficking. If all casino and bus employees knew what to look for and reported it immediately, imagine how many lives would be changed!