One on One with…Truckers Against Trafficking

In just a few short years the organization known as Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) has made tremendous strides in engaging the trucking industry in the fight against human trafficking. TAT’s National Director, Kendis Paris, recently spoke with Dispatch Production Manager Nazmia Alqadi to discuss the program and how she hopes the trucking industry can take a proactive stance against human trafficking.

Logo: Truckers Against Trafficking

CP Dispatch: Can you describe how Truckers Against Trafficking was initiated?

Kendis: My mother, Lyn Thompson, came up with the idea for Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), in part, because the statistics from the Innocence Lost Initiative from 2004 to 2009 showed truck stops were one of the venues from which trafficked children were recovered. We began TAT as an initiative in March 2009. But within a short time, its growth and need for more of our time and resources necessitated that TAT become its own organization. In September 2011, TAT became a 501c3 organization. Our mission is to educate, equip, empower, and mobilize the trucking industry to combat human trafficking as part of their everyday jobs.

CP Dispatch: Why is this issue so important?

Kendis: Human trafficking is taking place across the country. The statistics show that—as well as the reality that the average age of entry in sex trafficking is 13. When you think about the trucking industry, with their key position along America’s roads and highways, and the fact that they see things most people don’t, it’s clear they can play a pivotal role in what is going on out there. This is too important to not do something. When the stories come back to us about the difference truckers are making, we know that this is how it’s supposed to happen. Human trafficking is one of the most heinous evils in the world. People think slavery ended with the conclusion of the Civil War, which is not true. When we talk to truckers about human trafficking, they can’t believe what it is like for the victims and how traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to trap them. And it spurs the truckers to action.

CP Dispatch: What are the goals of TAT?

Kendis: Our first goal is to get our materials out to every member of the trucking industry, from our wallet cards that feature the national hotline number to our everyday hero posters. We want these posters to be featured at every fuel island and fueling shop. The more awareness we can raise, the better. Truckers will then go and tell everyone else in their family and community. This is not just happening at truck stops, but all over. This is not just about educating our truckers, but the broader issue of educating everyone.

Our second goal is to have every member of the trucking industry view our 28-minute training video that can be found on our website. Law enforcement and NGOs have also requested copies of this training, because it is not only focused on the trucking industry but also really shows what is going on in the United States.

Finally, our third goal is to partner with law enforcement to facilitate the investigation of human trafficking. We want to do everything from raising awareness for this campaign, to helping with the response to the victims—all the way to providing undercover footage. We want to provide the opportunities for law enforcement to open investigations, track significant hot spots, and provide any assistance as needed.

CP Dispatch: Are you working with any partners?

Kendis: One of our significant partners is Polaris Project. They run the national hotline and provide us with quarterly reports, which we then pass along to the trucking industry. We are also working with iEmphathize, an anti-human trafficking nonprofit out of Boulder, Colorado, that raises awareness for human trafficking through the arts. They produced our training DVD and designed our booth for trucking shows. They also provide us with volunteers for our booth. Another great partner is Transport for Christ. They have mobile chapels at truck stops across the United States and Canada, and every chaplain has been trained by TAT and provided with the materials for distribution. We also partner with companies, associations, and organizations inside the trucking industry.

Poster: Truckers Against TraffickingCP Dispatch: Do you ever partner with law enforcement? If not, what message do you want to get to them?

Kendis: Yes, we do partner with law enforcement. We welcome opportunities to partner with them in investigations. Any way we can assist; we are ready to do so. Truckers want to do more than just keep their eyes open and call the hotline. Truckers are willing to offer trucks for surveillance and help with undercover [stings]. Whatever we can do to enable law enforcement to investigate, arrest, and rescue. We can offer key intelligence in particular communities. If there is information we can provide or if law enforcement needs to talk to a driver, we can assist with that contact. We have had law enforcement contact us and ask us to keep our ears open to activity in their area. We are creating a database, and keep track of the areas, and if the jurisdiction pops up, we reach out to that contact. And, finally, and in particular, whenever law enforcement is called to a [truck stop] lot, we hope they’ll arrive with the thought that this is a potential human trafficking victim and not just a prostitute.

CP Dispatch: Where do you envision TAT in the future?

Kendis: Our primary goal is to saturate the trucking industry. We want to get every state association, every company, and every truck stop and travel plaza on board. This is going to take years, which is fine, because they want to see that you are in it for the long haul. We are building relationships and building trust. We also want to strengthen our partnerships with law enforcement. We want to make a substantial impact on human trafficking as a whole, not just on isolated cases.

CP Dispatch: Can you provide any examples of success stories?

Kendis: Yes! One that came in last month, a recent labor trafficking victim—I’m not sure if she was also sex trafficked—managed to run away. She got to a truck stop and started talking to a trucker. He gave her the national hotline number and after calling, she was connected with Catholic Charities for help. Afterwards, the trucker was able to connect her with another trucker who gave her a ride home to her hometown in Missouri.

A second story, this one in 2011, was passed along by a director of a safe home. A young woman who was placed in a safe location passed along the information on how she connected with the hotline. She shared that after she escaped where she was, she wanted to get as far away as she could so her captors would not find her. She began hitchhiking. A truck driver who picked her up started asking her some questions which resulted in him giving her the national hotline number.

CP Dispatch: Overall, what message do you want our readers to know?

Kendis: In general, the trucking industry does not get a lot of respect, [and with this initiative] we want to empower them. This is a sensitive issue, because if the trucking industry [fully] comes on board, it means they are [acknowledging that] human trafficking takes place in and around certain areas and places associated with and/or belonging to them. But TAT gives them a way to take a proactive stance. This is too important an issue to ignore…to not do something about. Our heroes that are featured on our everyday hero posters deserve our applause. Pimps use the transportation industry to transport victims, and we really would love the trucking industry to lead the way in preventing trucks from being a viable option for traffickers. Every industry has people who make bad choices and do bad things, and those are the folks that make the press. At TAT, we want to highlight the guys that call the hotline and want to help—the ones that jump on the opportunity to come to the aid of someone in need. We want truckers to be modern-day abolitionists, and TAT gives them a great opportunity to make a change.

For more information on Truckers on Trafficking, please visit http://truckersagainsttrafficking.com/ and if you would like to learn how your agency can work with TAT, please email tat.truckers@gmail.com.

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