Joyce Brenny started driving a truck in 1980. She was raped at a trucking company she worked at in the mid 1980s.
Afterward, “I was brought into the terminal and sat down in the HR office and forced to go through a lie detector test, which I passed,” she said. “But at that point I was so traumatized I ran off and thought about committing suicide and went through severe PTSD.”
Today, Brenny is president of Brenny Transportation and Brenny Specialized. “In 1996 I decided I’d had enough of the good old boys club and started my own company,” she said, which today has 100 trucks, a logistics division and a warehouse division.
Brenny shared her personal story during the inaugural meeting of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new Women of Trucking Advisory Board on Nov. 9. The agenda? Crime prevention for women in the trucking industry, which resulted in a lively and personal discussion about sexual harassment and assault against truck drivers.
Kicking off the meeting were remarks by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who said advisory boards like this "have informed the plans of the federal government since the days of George Washington..... You are the experts on these very important issues that will help guide our work."
With its purposely broad range of fleets, drivers, associations, and viewpoints, the board’s discussions (held virtually via Zoom) and the public-meeting chat sometimes veered off into accusations that some groups weren’t doing enough to protect women, to the point where the moderator felt a need to remind the group of the need for civil discourse.
However, there was broad agreement that sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape are important issues that need to be addressed in a traditionally male-dominated industry if it hopes to recruit more than the 7% of truck drivers who are currently female.
Advisory board member Laura Duryea today is manager of recruiting, retention, and driver development for Boyle Transportation, but she started driving in 1993.
“Anyone who’s been on the road for a long time knows harassment has been accepted in our industry, verbal harassment, and in other male-dominated industries,” she said. “This kind of behavior has been glossed over for a very long time. It’s very important to manage people’s behavior and expectations in how they treat each other — male, female, LGBT, trans, no matter what.”
“I don’t know a single female driver that has not encountered some type of harassment,” said Kellylynn McLaughlin, a professional driver with Schneider.
FMCSA's Crime Study Doesn't go Far Enough
As part of the meeting, FMCSA released the results of its Crime Prevention for Truckers Survey. In the works for several years, the survey was completed between Jan. 1 and Feb. 22 of this year. It was conducted by Battelle under contract to FMCSA.
653 truckers responded to the survey:
- 201 were women
- 167 were minority male
- 285 were non-minority male
Tom Keane, associate administrator of FMCSA’s Office of Research and Registration, said the survey found that harassment against truck drivers is prevalent, and that women drivers are exposed to far more sexual harassment.
The most common form of harassment for all respondents was being called a name they did not like; 59% of women, 52% of minority male and 51% of non-minority male.
The largest disparity between womens’ responses and men’s was “got touched inappropriately,” which Keane described as the most severe of the options — 33% of women, compared to only 8% of minority males and 14% of non-minority males.
Advisory board members immediately questioned the definition of “got touched inappropriately,” pointing out there is a vast difference between an inappropriate touch and violent assault or rape.
Duryea suggested to FMCSA, "One of the things we may want to ask in the next survey is, 'Have you had sexual violence perpetrated on you?' Inappropriate touching is a lot different than being raped.”
Anne Balay agreed, saying “touching inappropriately being equated with rape is an insult. I’ve talked to women who believe rape is part of what they have to put up with for the job." Balay is an organizer with the Service Employees International Union (School/Higher Education) and is the author of the book Semi Queer: Inside the World of Gay, Trans, and Black Truck Drivers.
Another complaint about the survey was the small number of respondents.
“One of the things that bothered me was the data,” said Nicole Ward, co-owner, African American Women in Trucking Association. “I wanted more insight. I believe it’s low response because women think, what is the point, what’s going to be done.”
Criticisms also included the fact that minority women were not broken out separately, as men were; and that transgender drivers and others in the LGBTQ community were not included. Members of several groups reported that they had their own research they could share with the advisory board.
“I wrote a book about this,” Balay said. “There is no shortage of data about rape of LGBTQ truckers.”
In response to the complaints, Keane said the study wasn’t intended to be conclusive, “but to confirm the anecdotal evidence we were hearing,” and that he intends to do a follow-up survey that will take into account the board’s concerns.
Elisabeth Barna, executive vice president, American Trucking Associations, responded to some of the frustration evident in some of the remarks. “I serve on the Truckers Against Trafficking board. 12 years ago, nobody talked about human trafficking… I think this group by starting the conversation is making a big difference.”
The group spent much of the day discussing the major issues here as well as possible solutions. Suggestions included:
Require Sexual Harassment Training for Drivers
There were several suggestions that sexual harassment and assault training be required as part of entry-level driver training requirements and/or the commercial drivers’ licensing program.
When the FMCSA survey asked about who the aggressor was, the most common was drivers not at the same company, for 55% of women, 46% of minority males, and 39% of non-minority males.
Second most common was by another driver at the same company, with 26% of women, 21%. Of minority males — but no non-minority males.
Among women, 20% said the aggressor was someone who was training them. That was only 7% for minority. Males and zero for non-minority males.
Enjoli DeGrasse, deputy director, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said harassment training should be required “for everyone regardless of gender, because it is a public health issue.”
During the public comment period, Desiree Woods of Real Women in Trucking showed an actual training manual from a major motor carrier. It was about 2 inches thick. “The harassment section is just a few lines,” she said. “Sexual harassment training is virtually nonexistent in this industry.”
Advisory board member Erin Ducharme, CFO, H&L Bloom/Bloom’s Bus Lines, said for the past two years she has been on a task force putting together a toolkit for recruiting and retention in the motorcoach industry.
"We talk a lot about culture and training; something like that in the trucking industry sounds like it’s kind of needed as well. A lot of operators who are small don’t necessarily have the in-house people, they don’t necessarily know what to do” to implement things like sexual harassment training.
Make it Easier to Report Harassment
The FMCSA survey found many instances of harassment and threats go unreported. For women drivers, 55% did report the attacks or threats, but 42% did not. Reasons given included that the respondents did not feel it would make a difference, and that they would still have to deal with it regardless.
Brenny and other board members shared their personal experiences with a traumatic reporting process, saying efforts need to be made to improve the reporting process and also helping the victim with therapy to deal with what happened.
“This is an issue I’m passionate about,” said Kellylynn McLaughlin, a professional driver with Schneider. “I was one of the women who responded to the survey that had multiple harassment issues… I was one who actually filed a formal complaint…. We know when it comes to rape and harassment it’s most often not reported, because it’s difficult. It’s heart-wrenching and it’s often not well received.”
The first time she experienced serious sexual harassment, she said, “It was nine-month process. There was no anonymity. It was traumatic. And in the end, I found out I wasn’t the first person to complain about this person, and I hoped I would be the last. I found out later that I wasn’t. the person just got training again [and stayed with the company].”
Boyles' Duryea said, “We need to make sure that the person who is the victim of abuse isn’t opened up for more abuse. We need to make it easier for people to report it and have it investigated and have some sort of anonymity so the person who assaulted you don’t know your home address.”
Advisory board members said many women are afraid of retaliation if they complain.
Balay said, “Any employer can fire you at any time, and that makes reporting very difficult. How can we shape the way employment is done in trucking so reporting is realistically possible? Some way to report that is going to protect your job. That’s what we need to think about.”
DeGrasse pointed out that Canada recently implemented new regulations that address workplace violence and sexual harassment. “One of the points is that there must be a mechanism to report this, and there has to be a designated person who’s trained to receive these kind of reports, and that data is also kept by the agency so they can be aware of the reports coming in.”
The Problem of Mixed-Gender Driver Training Teams
A large portion of the discussion centered around the industry’s common practice of training truck drivers by pairing them with a trainer on regular revenue runs.
With the small percentage of women drivers in the industry, there appears to be even a smaller percentage of female driver trainers. That means new women coming into the industry often are paired with a male driver, a situation rife for abuse.
“What industry requires you to share a sleeping area with your supervisor?” asked McLaughlin. Mixed-gender training “has been the standard in this industry…it’s just been accepted that this is the way that we train,” she said. “There are other ways to do it; it just costs money.”
She submitted an outline for suggested best practices for mixed-gender driver training.
“How do we highlight those carriers who are following best practices?” she asked. “How do we highlight those who are clearly negligent in caring about the safety of their drivers both male and female?”
The board discussed the need to bring more women trainers into the picture.
“We have to make it more appealing for female trainers to be interested in training, something they want to do, to be in a mentorship capacity to be able to train,” Duryea said. “i think a lot of female drivers don’t feel like they’re qualified to train.”
Emily Plummer, a professional driver for Prime Inc., said at Prime, women can decide if they want to be trained by a male trainer or another female. However, she said, “They do tend to have to wait a little longer [for a female trainer].”
Brenny said, “We have an industry that has accepted putting people behind the wheel without the proper professional training. We turn people into ‘trainers’ that have no education on how to teach and how to train, and this is [viewed as] OK. It’s not OK.” Brenny has won numerous safety awards including two awards for its young driver apprentice program.
One suggestion discussed was oversight of driver trainers by the FMCSA, including a database of trainers similar to the registry for certified medical examiners.
Several board members also suggested that those who have a record of serious sexual harassment, assault or rape be put into a database similar to the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse so motor carriers could check for habitual offenders, and that they be barred from being driver trainers.
However, Plummer pointed out that it’s possible that a trainee could falsely accuse their trainer, for instance if they felt the trainer was being too hard on them. “Would it be fair to me, if I’m accused once, to lose my ability to train?” she asked.
Truck Parking and Security
The shortage of safe, secure truck parking is an issue across the industry, but especially for women drivers. Some of the boards suggestions included:
- Stop the common practice of keying all trucks in a fleet the same, which leaves some women to fear a fellow driver from the same company could easily access their truck.
- Better lighting at truckstops
- Reserved secure parking spots
- Police call boxes similar to those on university campuses.
Safety devices for drivers were also discussed.
Sharae Moore, founder and president of SHE Trucking Foundation, has been driving since 2014. “I have a [security] system in my truck…I’m able to spray 8 feet outside of my rig with mace. It made me feel better and more protected.”
Plummer said at Prime, there is a female liaison drivers can contact 24/7 and a panic button in the truck. If someone pushes the panic button, their phone rings or their in-cab communications device goes off, and if there’s not an answer in two minutes, police are dispatched.
Change the Culture
Above all, members brought up the point that this is something that needs to be addressed from the top down – that companies and the industry as a whole need to change the culture.
“We need to start at the top,” Brenny said. “The people running these trucking companies are for the most part still men. I’m not a man hater, but we still have the good ol’ boy network in trucking.”
“We take a really big stand against human trafficking,” said Jerri Banks, CEO of Life on the Road Recruiting & Transportation Services. “We have to take the same type of stand against sexual harassment and assault in the trucking industry.”