Truckers have long been the eyes and ears of the road, and the industry and Colorado lawmakers want to officially put that perspective to use as the state continues its growing battle against human trafficking.
A proposal next year would do that through legislation by requiring all new commercial driver’s license candidates in the state to go through a course teaching them how to identify the tell-tale signs of trafficking. And what to do if they spot them.
“It was really something that a lot of our companies and drivers have embraced,” said Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, an industry group. “It’s like having an army of additional eyes and ears out there to be monitoring this.”
Some trucking companies have already been voluntarily teaching their drivers how to identify signs of labor or sex trafficking when out on the road or at motels, as well as the means to get in touch with authorities and report what they’ve seen.
But this formal process, advocates say, would ensure that nearly all commercial drivers in the state would have that skill set as they transport goods across Colorado’s maze of highways.
“We have come to recognize that it’s a useful tool if wielded well,” said Kendis Paris, who heads the Denver-based Truckers Against Trafficking, a national advocacy group that supports the coming bill. “It’s turning bystanders into a disruptive source, in essence.”
Truckers Against Trafficking says that since its start in 2009, there have been nearly 2,000 trucker calls to a national human-trafficking hotline, shedding light on about 545 likely cases of human trafficking involving more than 1,000 victims. The advocacy group has trained nearly a half-million people.
An Alaska Airlines flight attendant made international headlines earlier this year when she described helping a young girl escape from an apparent trafficker after using her training to identify her as a victim on the run. Last year, federal officials in Colorado elicited the help of motel and hotel workers — specifically front-desk clerks and housekeepers — to keep tabs on possible trafficking.
“It’s great that we’re going to be having education around this issue, with more transportation sectors within the state,” said Amanda Finger, who leads a Denver-based nonprofit, the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking. “We know that transportation across state lines is often involved in sex and labor trafficking.”
That makes it key to have as many people as possible looking out for victims and perpetrators, and knowing what to look for.
“It’s my understanding that the majority of sex-trafficking cases and labor-trafficking cases are identified by members of the public,” said state Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora, who is sponsoring the legislation. “And those members of the public include truckers. Truckers tend to be at places where people come in and out of — motels, truck stops and gas stations. They see a lot of things.”
Jackson and others say they don’t anticipate that the human-trafficking training, should it be approved by lawmakers, will add any cost to truckers going through a commercial driver’s license course. It takes just about 30 minutes.
The bill is expected to be presented early next year, after the 2018 legislative session begins Jan. 10.
“It has very strong bipartisan support both in the House and the Senate,” Jackson said. “We’re going to get this going, and get this going quickly.”