The news from Washington in 2018, so far, has been mostly bad. Scandals and gridlock dominate the headlines, and the Federal government is currently staring at the possibility of a shutdown. But one area of progress stands out above the partisan bickering, and that is federal policy to combat human trafficking.
Earlier this month, another notable step was made to integrate human trafficking awareness into federal policy making. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) passed S. 1536, The Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act, a bill endorsed by ECPAT USA. The new law was signed by President Trump in time for National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
As anyone who drives America’s freeways can tell you, there are a lot of trucks and tractor trailers on the road. Current estimates put the number at 3.5 million truckers logging 432 billion miles crisscrossing the country. However, a variety of factors, from the interstate nature of trucking, to the ubiquity of unaccompanied men staying at truck stops, to CB communication, have made the trucking industry an ideal market for child traffickers.
Girls are frequently sent from truck to truck at rest stops while sex traffickers collect the money and then drive off with their victims to another jurisdiction. CNN reported last year on an alert trucker who pulled into into a gas station in New Kent County, Virginia. He noted it was quiet and isolated but a "kind of unusual" family recreational vehicle was parked nearby. "The thing that stuck out was that this was an old RV with black curtains which wasn't very family-ish," Kimmel reported. He watched as a man approached the RV and knocked before entering. Kimmel saw what he thought was a "minor female" dart out from behind the RV curtain and then quickly disappear. He immediately called the local sheriff. Police cars soon arrived, and rescued "a female in really bad shape." A man and a woman in handcuffs were also escorted out of the vehicle.
The young victim in this story was fortunate. A conscientious trucker saw something, and did not turn a blind eye. Instead, he called the authorities and they rescued a badly abused victim who had been abducted from Iowa. Truckers across the country have helped organize Truckers Against Trafficking, which shares ECPAT’s goals of preventing child trafficking. And the organization has proved to be an important ally in Washington to address sex trafficking in the transportation sector. But we need more resources, more education and more visibility in America’s highways, ports and airports, and that is what this legislation does.
The new law creates a human trafficking coordinator within the Department of Transportation to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts throughout the department. Furthermore, human trafficking education and prevention programs can now be developed out of the roughly quarter billion dollars allocated to the Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Finally, the bill creates an advisory committee at the department which will recommended changes to Department of Transportation’s policy and regulations. These recommendations and other suggested best practices will then be shared with the states.
As always, while we have supported this bill since its introduction, more remains to be done. Several states, including Texas and Illinois have introduced mandatory human trafficking training into their Commercial Driver’s License requirements. We need to make certain that drivers involved in child trafficking get more than a slap on the wrist and return back to the road. And Senator Klobuchar has legislation seeking to compensate the victims from this form of human trafficking. So, as always, our work is cut out for us. But, we also need to take a moment to congratulate Senators Klobuchar and Thune for helping us take another step in ending child sexual exploitation in this country.