Decker truckers join initiative to stop human trafficking

‘The eyes and ears of the highway’

Up until about 10 years ago, human trafficking was a problem largely unrecognized and under-reported by the general public.

Much of that had to do with a lack of education on the subject of human trafficking, which is the illegal transportation of a person to another location for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation.

Even today, statistics on human trafficking are limited.

But in recent years, awareness has increased and the trucking industry is involved in combating modern-day slavery — the second most profitable industry in the world.

Decker Truck Line Inc., headquartered in Fort Dodge, is joining that effort by partnering with Truckers Against Trafficking, a nonprofit organization that provides training and resources on how to spot and report human trafficking to law enforcement.

“We became aware of it and wanted to participate to do what we could to help this,” said Rick George, Decker’s vice president of safety. “That’s why we felt the need to train our drivers.”

Decker runs trucks in 48 states. More than 700 drivers are employed by the company.

“Truckers are the eyes and ears out on the highway and we wanted to participate in this effort,” George said.

According to information from the Truckers Against Trafficking website, 1,980 calls have been placed by truckers to the National Human Trafficking Hotline between December 2007 and December 2017.

Those calls reported a total of 557 cases of potential human trafficking involving 1,035 potential victims.

More than 300 were minors.

Truckers Against Trafficking was formed in 2009.

Prior to that, the National Human Trafficking Hotline only received three calls total from truckers, according to the website.

George, who grew up in Renwick, a city of fewer than 300 people, said he didn’t realize the prevalence of human trafficking.

“It seems to be a bit more of it than I thought there was,” he said. “I am a small-town Iowa boy and I always thought it was a big city problem.”

In fact, rural areas create an opportunity for traffickers, according to experts on human trafficking.

Smaller cities with a lower law enforcement per capita can allow traffickers to operate undetected.

But truck drivers have made a difference by reporting what they see.

On Jan. 6, 2015, it was a trucker who noticed the presence of black curtains around an RV at a gas station in New Kent, Virginia.

It was later determined a young woman inside the RV was a victim of human trafficking.

The call made by that truck driver to law enforcement led to the arrests of two people responsible for the crime.

Here are some warning signs that may indicate an individual is being trafficked

• Poor work and living conditions

• Multiple people living in cramped space

• Living with unreasonable security measures

• Living with employer/boss/manager

• Employer or other party is holding identity documents

• Unpaid or paid very little for work

• Poor mental health or abnormal behaviors

• Usually fearful of law enforcement

• Submissive, nervous, paranoid, fearful or disoriented

• Poor physical health

• Lack of medical care, food, sleep

• Malnourished

• Bruisings on body at various stages

• Signs of sexual abuse: restraint, torture or confinement

• Lack of control

• Few or no personal possessions

• Carries more than one cell phone or teenager with no cell phone

• Not in control of money or access to finances

• Is not able to speak for themselves

• Has scripted/rehearsed answers

• Is in a relationship with someone considerably older

• Loss of sense of time

• Avoids eye contact

• Disconnected from family, friends, community

More potential indicators of victimization

• Multiple motel key cards

• Unrelated children

• Condoms, lubrication

• Mouthwash in purse

• Multiple cell phones

• Parents’ phone number not entered in phone

• Sex toys

• Large sums of money and gift cards

National Human Trafficking Resource Center