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“It is indeed modern-day slavery,” said Kendis Paris, about human trafficking, the practice that inflicts forced labor or rape onto unwilling participants. As executive director and co-founder of Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), Paris seeks to stop the problem through awareness and training, which at times may seem too massive and pervasive a problem to stop.

“There are more slaves today than in any other time in the history of the world, and that includes the 400 years of the Transatlantic slave trade,” she said.

Worldwide there are roughly 25 million victims of forced labor and more than 15 million in forced marriages, according to the International Labour Organization. That’s double the 2010 estimate from the U.S. Department of Justice. The current forced labor number breaks down into 16 million used for construction, farming and domestic jobs, 4 million enslaved by state authorities, such as the China’s alleged use of Uighurs to make Nike and Apple products, and almost 5 million forced into sexual exploitation. The illegal trade generates $150 billion a year.

Just before the American Civil War, the 1860 U.S. Census counted nearly 4 million slaves trapped in bondage. At the time, slavery existed in 15 of the 31 states. Today, modern slavery is everywhere.

“There is no state immune from this crime,” Paris said. “This crime literally is happening in every single one of our backyards.”

In the U.S., the number of trafficking victims is in the hundreds of thousands, with men and women of every ethnicity, citizen and foreign national alike being targeted. Paris said females, particularly girls and women of color, are more at risk and can be sexually assaulted up to 20 times a day. In Mexico, one girl lured away at age 12 with the promise of money and a better life went through four years of being raped at least 30 times a day, The Independent reported.

Trucking Industry Involvement

Paris spoke on this worldwide epidemic, which is as difficult a subject to hear about as discuss, on a July 30 webinar hosted by Driving Goodness. That’s also the date marked by the United Nations as World Day against Trafficking in Persons. The U.N. isn’t immune to this worldwide problem, as its own peacekeepers in Bosnia and Central African Republic reportedly were embroiled in human trafficking scandals, which the U.N. attempted to cover up, according to whistleblower Kathryn Bolkovac.

The purpose of TAT’s discussion was to create its own army of traveling whistleblowers—the trucking community—and inform as many as who will listen about the severity of human trafficking and the steps the transportation industry can take and has taken to disrupt it.

“Truckers Against Trafficking recognizes that the trucking industry — through their sheer numbers, extensive travels and the nature of their jobs — could provide an extra set of eyes and ears for law enforcement in recovering victims and having pimps arrested,” Paris explained. “Imagine if all drivers were trained and knew what to look for and then immediately reported it. Imagine how many victims could potentially be recovered.”

That’s not just wishful thinking on Paris’ part. It happens, sometimes, when truckers least suspect it.

This is the situation Arian Taylor, a Ballard Trucking driver from Kentucky, found himself in at 3:30 a.m. in Compton, Calif, in January 2018. He was making a delivery when a distressed 19-year-old woman tapped on his window.

She had just escaped her brother’s friend, who Paris called her “would-be pimp.” The woman sought asylum with Taylor, who had a TAT window decal on his truck, which asks “Do you need help?” and lists the National Human Trafficking Hotline phone number 888-3737-888. The organization has handled about 52,000 calls since 2007.

Taylor gave the woman water, heard her story and let her call the hotline from the privacy of his truck. The victim advocate on the hotline provided the help she needed and she was on her way back to her family the next day.

TAT bestowed Taylor its Harriet Tubman award that May. Paris also mentioned a Western Express driver who tipped off law enforcement to the abuse of a mentally disabled 19-year-old. By leaving his callback info, police were able to track the woman down three states over. A Con-way Truckload driver named Kevin Kimmel in Virgina reported a suspicious RV at a truck stop, which led to the freeing of an Iowa woman who was tortured and raped for 18 days. His testimony helped convict the two traffickers, who are now each serving sentences of 40 and 41 years.

For printable Truckers Against Trafficking materials, click HERE.

Overall, drivers have now made more than 2,600 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which has generated almost 700 “likely” cases and identified almost 1,300 victims, according to recent TAT data.

The number may be much larger, as the hotline first advises victims or witnesses to call 911 if the event is an emergency. Paris noted those calls are not tracked nationally.

Another point to note is that dash cam videos have been used to open cases, Paris said. License plate numbers, physical descriptions, dates and time are “wildly helpful” to law enforcement, she said.

TAT has an app available on electronic logging devices as well.

The number of TAT-trained drivers will soon hit 900,000. The U.S. Census Bureau counts 3.5 million truck drivers nationally, so about 25% have undergone the training. The certification process involves watching a video and taking a short quiz.

One needn’t professionally drive to be in the right place to provide aid. Paris said two Travel Centers of America employees in Jessup, Md., reported suspicious activity at the hotel parking lot across from the truck stop and helped take down three pimps who were trafficking 20 victims.

The clues can include visible bruises or lack of identification, or be more nuanced, such as signs of depression or fear.

Knowing the signs isn’t always as easy as seeing a girl being taken against her will. As the Iowa Victims’s Service Call Center explains, victims sometimes still live at home and attend school, and the method of enslavement is psychological in nature.

In a TedTalk given by Dr. Kanani Titchen, an adolescent medicine physician and assistant clinical professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, provided more context into how human trafficking can be overlooked or dismissed.

Earlier in her career, she was preparing a woman for surgery who had a dollar sign and expletives tattooed around her groin, but she didn’t realize those were essentially brandings advertising her oppression.

“We missed it. I didn’t see her,” Titchen said.

Another time she received a young woman who gave birth on the actual street before coming to the hospital and questioned the new mother as to why she didn’t come earlier. The woman replied her job as a “receptionist” kept her from coming in despite three days of contractions. The doctor congratulated the quiet, stern man in the room, whom she thought was the father, but in reality was the dehumanizing pimp.

“It is hard to act,” Titchens acknowledged. “It takes courage, it takes training, it takes support. It takes a team of people to help us help others.”

The alternative is allowing situations like this to continue, to spend so much time and money to improve the safety of fellow humans on the highway, yet ignore the violence and abuse that could be occurring at the truck stop, which could be stopped or mitigated with a phone call.

 “We have got to stand up and step in because if we don’t it’s possible that nobody else will,” Titchens said.

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