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By Frances Johnson

Truckers across Utah — and the country — might soon be adding a new title to their resumes: hero.

The Utah Trucking Association (UTA) has partnered with non-profit organization Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) to join the fight against human trafficking. TAT presented training at the UTA’s annual safety meeting last year. Five or six Utah trucking companies were represented, but the UTA hopes to provide the training to all of its 600 member companies.

“It’s an opportunity to say, ‘Here is the problem and here is a mechanism to address the problem,’” said Rick Clasby, executive director of the Utah Trucking Association. “The reality is there are so many victims out and about in places like truck stops and rest stops and crossing state lines. We’re the eyes and ears because of the sheer number of drivers. The more information [truckers] have and resources they have, the more they can help. And they want to help.”

According to the TAT website, “Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states and the number of victims in the United States is estimated in the hundreds of thousands. While illegal, human trafficking is a booming business. Traffickers recruit out of our schools, online, in shopping malls, as well as the streets and other locations. A large percentage of the people trafficked are women and children. Many of them are used in the sex industry. They are the prostituted people on the street and in private homes and in legitimate businesses such as restaurants, truck stops and motels. They need to be identified and rescued.”

Truck drivers are particularly well-placed to identify victims of human trafficking because those victims often turn up in places such as truck stops and rest stops where truck drivers often are, as well. TAT provides truck drivers with pamphlets that outline the signs of human trafficking, as well as decals drivers can place in their cabs with a hotline number to call if they see something suspicious. The decal can also serve as a sign to victims that the driver is a safe person to make contact with, if the victim is able.

Since the organization’s inception in 2009, truckers have made more than 1,660 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, generating 533 cases of sex trafficking involving 1,139 victims, 313 of whom were minors, making them one of the fastest-growing demographics of callers nationwide, according to the TAT website.

“Traffickers are transient. They go from place to place to place and that’s what work looks like for a truck driver,” said Lindsey England Qualls, director of human resources for Utah-based trucking company Pride Transport. “They can see things that look unusual. If there’s an Escalade with a bunch of young ladies, that looks odd. If there’s a camper parked out back, away from where it should be, they notice that. They’re in places where the rest of us aren’t.”

After hearing TAT’s presentation at the UTA’s meeting last year, England Qualls felt compelled to do everything she could to further the cause of fighting human trafficking. Today, every new truck driver hired by Pride receives a 30-minute human trafficking prevention training as part of their new-hire orientation.

“I really decided then and there that we had to do something at Pride to help fight trafficking,” she said.

In addition to reviewing the signs of human trafficking, England Qualls also talks to new hires about avoiding common behaviors and terms in the trucking industry, such as calling prostitutes “lot lizards,” that can be dehumanizing to women. TAT training also encourages trucking industry professionals to avoid other derogatory language such as “prostitute,” “john” and “rescue” and instead use terms such as “prostituted person,” “survivor,” “overcomer,” “buyer,” “victim” and “recovered.”

Those terms and behaviors contribute to a bad reputation for truck drivers, Clasby said, but most don’t deserve it. Joining the fight against human trafficking goes a long way to dispel that reputation. Truckers are part of the solution, not the problem.

“Of course, there are stereotypes of drivers and we work really hard to dispel those,” Clasby said. “But being part of the solution and taking such a strong stance against the problem, we as an industry are saying this is not acceptable and we are going to work to prevent it.”

England Qualls agrees. Talking about sexual exploitation is not comfortable for anyone, she said, but she has been impressed with how receptive truck drivers and others in the industry have been to the message of fighting human trafficking. When she first started her trainings a year ago, very few people in her orientations had heard of TAT; now almost everyone has.

“They don’t deserve the reputation they have,” she said of truck drivers. “They are hard-working people who want to make a living and do what they can for causes like this. Truckers Against Trafficking has really given the industry a purpose and united the industry.”

Now that anti-human trafficking training is well-established at her company, England Qualls is determined to make sure the same thing happens at other trucking companies in Utah as well.

“It’s just a matter of inundating our world and our communities with this information,” she said. And since TAT provides all the collateral materials a company needs to conduct the training, there is no financial downside to getting involved. “There is essentially no cost there. It’s just being brave enough to talk about an uncomfortable topic.”

Expanding the training in Utah will go a long way to combatting human trafficking, Clasby said, since almost all cargo traveling from coast to coast comes through the state.

“The important message from our perspective is that the trucking industry is critical to Utah’s economy and vital to moving our goods and we want to be good neighbors,” Clasby said. “We want to be part of the solution. We don’t want to be seen as a problem. We’re happy to help address these illegalities and take advantage of the many, many eyes that are on the road at any given time.”