InTrans / Feb 27, 2015
How the Department of Transportation is helping stop human trafficking
posted on February 27, 2015
Human trafficking is the act of trading humans for sexual slavery or forced labor. Though this seems like an issue from the 19th century, the issue of human trafficking is still a very real problem, with an estimate of 20 to 30 million slaves worldwide today.
The United States is a huge target for human trafficking, with about 17,500 people trafficked into the country each year. Further, 244,000 American children and youth are said to be at risk for sex trafficking each year according the U. S. Department of State’s statistics in 2000.
Human trafficking is illegal in the United States and in many other countries. Nonetheless, the problem continues. Some of the cities in which human trafficking is prevalent include California for forced labor primarily, and Atlanta and Houston for sex trafficking. One of the organizations that is coming together to try to end human trafficking is the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
A Conversation with the Iowa DOT Chief of Motor Vehicle Enforcement, David Lorenzen
Can you tell me a little bit about your work with the Truckers Against Trafficking?
My involvement with Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) started a little over a year and a half ago. The impetus for our involvement was because Tom Miller, the Attorney General of Iowa, wanted to increase emphasis on human trafficking in and through Iowa. The purpose was to look at the different ways state partners could help reduce human trafficking. In that initial meeting they asked Motor Vehicle Enforcement (MVE) to be involved because of our relationship with the trucking industry. They also suggested contacting the chief executive officer, Kendis Paris, from TAT. I had the chance to speak with her on the phone, and she shared what TAT had been involved with in terms of awareness. Really, it seemed like a natural fit for MVE to be involved.
MVE does approximately 50,000 commercial vehicle inspections each year. There are approximately 120 motor vehicle enforcement officers throughout the state. Since our partnership with TAT, we have helped raise awareness throughout the state by providing materials and educating people about human trafficking. We believe that even if one person is rescued from human trafficking, then we consider our efforts a success.
There are nearly three million truck drivers in the US that are out driving 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Truck drivers are such a great resource to be the “eyes” of the road and can assist us in an effort to stop trafficking.
What type of information do you give people interested in being a part of stopping trafficking?
We give out TAT wallet cards with basic information about trafficking. The card illustrates that there are a few red flags to look for and how to report incidences by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888. However, it is important to note that we are not asking truckers to act as law enforcement. We don’t want them to endanger themselves, but rather to have an understanding of the signs of human trafficking and give them a resource where they can report suspected human trafficking. Once a driver calls the hotline, a bulletin is sent out to law enforcement where the incident was observed.
Have you seen cooperation amongst different people in the state to help with this effort?
We’ve had great cooperation from truck stops throughout Iowa. MVE officers go to truck stops to talk about the TAT effort. Truck stops are very willing to work with us as well.
Our partnership with truck drivers is so important. In a 24-hour period, the Des Moines metro area probably sees about 10,000-20,000 commercial truck drivers. That number is on the increase since it is the main road from the west to the east coast. Having truck drivers as the “eyes” of our highways is very helpful in this fight against human trafficking.
MVE has TAT wallet cards in 12 weigh stations throughout Iowa. We also have materials in many of the truck stops and rest areas. MVE provides all the materials, such as TAT wallet cards and window clings. This effort is not just for truck drivers, but travelers should also take the TAT card to report any suspicious activity.
Why do you think truck drivers are so receptive to this?
I think they are good people who care. Every profession has a few people that may give the profession a bad image. But as humans, we all want to be useful and to be good at what we do. We want to correct the wrongs of others. Truck drivers see reporting things like human trafficking as their responsibility. With three million truck drivers on the road, they believe they can make a real difference in the effort against trafficking.
I think the truck industry has gotten a black eye because there is a misconception that human trafficking is happening at truck stops. In reality, truck stops make up a very small portion of human trafficking incidents. It also happens at shopping malls, hotel events with a number of people, or any place with mobility.
What is the training for law enforcement and truck drivers for human trafficking?
We use TAT DVDs to train law enforcement and our staff on what human trafficking is, in addition to handing out the wallet sized cards. The video and materials instruct people about a few of the warning signs to know someone is a victim of trafficking.
- Somebody that has a lack of knowledge of where they are at.
- The person does not have identification documents.
- They see the person has restricted communication with others, and their demeanor shows anxiety or stress.
A lot of times the traffickers use force, coercion, and fraud to control victims. Minors (those under 18) are a majority of victims. If you see minors in a place that minors typically aren’t, then that is another sign. Another sign could be if you see somebody drop a number of young people off at a facility and then pick them up later.
If you see any of those signs, make a note of the description of the car, date, time, address, and any other important information. Immediately get that information to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
It is also important to note that there is no commonality amongst race or ethnicity. Trafficking takes anybody.
Is IA a leader in the effort to stop human trafficking?
I think so. There was recent case in Virginia where a young woman was trafficked from Clive, Iowa, to Virginia. A couple had trafficked the young girl for two years before they were caught. They were at a truck stop in Virginia when a trucker made a call and the victim was rescued. The couple was arrested and are now awaiting trial.
A recent article about MVE’s efforts, which was printed in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, was picked up by the Virginia State Police. They have since implemented efforts in their state against human trafficking using the Iowa DOT model. That model is now being used in 12 states.
By Jackie Nester, Go! Staff Writer