"Here we are, I'm 15 years old, my cousin is 14, we're here at a truckstop, you know, being forced to work it, being forced to go truck to truck asking, you know, if the guys would like to have sex with us."
"And we're young girls, terrified out of our mind."
That's the story of Shari, one of two Toledo, Ohio, teens who were kidnapped by a local prostitution ring, as told in a DVD from Truckers Against Trafficking.
Any truck driver can share tales of lot lizards prostitutes that haunt truckstop and rest area parking lots.
Truckers put no lot lizard signs on their truck windows, and keep barking dogs in the cab as much to scare away prostitutes as to deter thieves. Yet some of those working girls may in fact be little more than girls, and likely are not doing this by choice, being paid with beatings and rapes without ever seeing any of the money they collect.
In the TAT video, drivers recount seeing young girls working truckstop lots with hollow looks in their eyes, of handlers getting on the CB offering underage girls to be used.
Human trafficking, a term for modern-day slavery, is a $32 billion worldwide industry with more than 27 million people enslaved. It's not just a foreign problem. It has been reported in all 50 states, and the number of victims in the United States is estimated in the hundreds of thousands.
Traffickers move their victims along major trucking routes and highways to keep them from getting too familiar with the people who use/buy them. They stop at gas stations, truckstops and rest areas. If truckers are trained to spot signs of human trafficking, they can call a national hotline, which will in turn alert FBI and local police.
A few years ago, a group called Truckers Against Trafficking decided to tackle this problem head-on. TAT offers a training video, posters that fleets can display, wallet-sized cards for truckers with a national trafficking hotline number to call, 1-888-373-7888.
The effort was somewhat slow to catch on. There was a definite ick factor, a visceral reaction stemming from the urge to keep anything that could be viewed as trucking's dirty laundry out of public view.
By acknowledging that there is prostitution going on in truckstop parking lots and trying to do something about a particularly heinous aspect of it, not only is trucking doing the right thing, but the industry also can turn a potential negative image topic into a positive.
The effort seems to be gaining some critical momentum, as politicians get on board and local and national media highlight the effort.
Earlier this year, Nevada Assemblyman John Hambrick introduced legislation to strengthen Nevada's human trafficking laws. He said the men and women who drive big rigs through truckstops and across the country are key to saving girls, boys and adults from being sold for sex.
Last month, the American Trucking Associations announced it's teaming up with Truckers Against Trafficking to alert member executives and drivers about the sex trade and train them to help fight against the crime. ATA is asking its motor carrier members to include this important information in their training programs and to work with their customers and communities to help combat the problem.
These professionals are the eyes and ears of the nation's highways, and with knowledge and guidance, they can make a big difference and save lives.
In Shari's case, a truck driver called 911 to report the girls working the lot at a truckstop. This trucker's call not only saved Shari and her cousin, but also broke open a case that convicted 31 offenders, rescued seven other minors, and shut down a 13-state prostitution ring.
"Because this trucker made the call, I have the opportunity to actually have a life," Shari says. "Because of that trucker, I have a future."From the November 2012 issue of HDT.
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