Truckers Can Slam the Brakes on Human Trafficking | Opinion

FBI agents recently arrested 67 suspected sex traffickers as part of a nationwide operation.

This effort, which relied on contributions from dozens of federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners, is encouraging. Still, more must be done to stem the rising tide of human trafficking in our country.

Americans reported almost 11,000 human trafficking cases to a national hotline in 2018, a 25 percent jump from 2017. On any given day in the United States, roughly 400,000 people are trafficked or forced to perform commercial sex or labor against their will.

Law enforcement officials can't fight this battle alone. Fortunately, they don't have to. The nation's 3.5 million long-haul truckers constantly pass through hotels, motels, and rest stops where trafficking often takes place. These drivers are experts in their field and have a proven ability to be foot soldiers in the fight against human trafficking.

Since 2009, the non-profit group Truckers Against Trafficking has trained more than 720,000 truckers to spot and report suspected trafficking cases. That training has included warning signs to look for, questions to ask suspected victims, and the number of the national hotline for reporting trafficking to law enforcement.

The results are impressive. Over the past decade, trained truckers have made more than 2,250 calls to the national hotline, not to mention countless more calls to 911 and local sheriff's offices. They've identified more than 600 cases of likely trafficking involving more than 1,100 victims.

But there's a limit to what individual drivers can do on their own. That's why companies from across the transportation industry must take steps to support those on the front lines.

Dozens of companies in the transportation industry have partnered with Truckers Against Trafficking to educate drivers and allies about the telltale signs of trafficking. For example, as a proud partner of Truckers Against Trafficking, Bridgestone has incorporated anti-trafficking training into regular driver safety meetings and educated our salesforce about what to look for when they're on the road.

Truckers Against Trafficking has also taught members of state trucking associations to recognize and report trafficking. Today, all 50 state associations have received training—up from just eight a few years ago. In addition, some bus lines and major airlines now offer travel vouchers to survivors of human trafficking to help them return home safely. This growing network of eyes and ears helps ensure that human traffickers have nowhere to hide—and makes our roads safer for the general public.

Of course, there's still more work to do. Companies in every industry can join the fight. Managers can make sure employees know the National Human Trafficking Hotline number and teach them to recognize potential victims traveling by bus, train, or plane. Businesses can implement zero-tolerance policies that make it a fireable offense to buy commercial sex on company time or with company resources.

Police departments don't have the resources or manpower to end human trafficking on their own. And they shouldn't have to. We all use our nation's roadways. Whether we're individuals, small businesses or large corporations, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about this national epidemic—and do our part to help end it.

Eric Higgs is president, truck, bus and retread tires, U.S. and Canada, at Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, and a board member of Truckers Against Trafficking.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.