Enlisting Truckers to Fight Human Trafficking

Truckers are a natural ally in the fight against human trafficking, legislators said, because they spend so much time in places where it tends to happen.

Truckers are a natural ally in the fight against human trafficking, legislators said, because they spend so much time in places where it tends to happen. Shutterstock

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Lawmakers in Wisconsin are hoping to add human trafficking curriculum to classes for commercial drivers' licenses.

Truck drivers in Wisconsin would be enlisted to help fight human trafficking under a bill proposed in the state legislature.

Senate Bill 25, introduced in February and recently approved by a committee, would require commercial motor vehicle driver education classes include information on how to recognize and prevent human trafficking. Proponents said the measure makes sense because human trafficking regularly occurs along highways and at truck stops and rest areas, places populated primarily—and sometimes only—by truck drivers.

“Given that truck drivers are literally where the rubber meets the road when human trafficking occurs along our highways, they can and do play a critical role in identifying and preventing traffickers who create victims through exploitation of our transportation system,” said state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, a Milwaukee Democrat and the bill’s main sponsor, at a public hearing before the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities. “As of 2017, Wisconsin has 312,492 licensed commercial drivers. This is a huge network of eyes and ears within the interstate trade industry that can support law enforcement in the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of traffickers.”

Human trafficking is well documented within the state. Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has fielded 2,110 calls reporting 503 cases in Wisconsin. Confirmed cases of trafficking involving children in the state’s foster care system have also risen in recent years, from eight in 2017 to 22 in 2018, according to the state Department of Children and Families.

Many private driving schools already offer human trafficking curriculum to commercial license students. But those who enroll at technical schools may miss out on that training, said Dan Johnson, vice president of the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association, which supports the legislation

“Truck drivers log millions of miles each year and often frequent the very locations where human trafficking may occur,” Johnson told lawmakers in March. “Many of our member companies have educated their drivers on the tell-tale signs human trafficking and what to look for and how to respond. But many do not have such knowledge, especially those who may be attending a state technical college to receive their commercial drivers license. Education is key to [fixing] this problem.”

At least eight other states have enacted similar policies, which one group says has led to a dramatic uptick in the number of trafficking reports from truckers—from sporadic calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline to more than 2,300 reports and counting. Those calls opened 635 cases of sex trafficking involving 1,186 victims, according to the nonprofit organization Truckers Against Trafficking.

Wisconsin legislators introduced a similar measure in 2017, which passed the state Assembly but stalled in the Senate. The current iteration moves next to the Senate floor.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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