TIFTON, Ga. — Before a commercial truck driver graduates from Southern Regional Technical College (SRTC), the student must prove that they are ready to handle the demands of driving a commercial vehicle. During their final exams, students demonstrate that they are proficient in operating a commercial vehicle on public roads through a variety of maneuvers, performing range operations such as clearance maneuvers, backing, turning, parallel parking, and coupling/uncoupling a big rig. In ten weeks’ time, the program provides basic training in the principles and skills of commercial truck operations, putting dozens of safe, qualified commercial truck drivers on the road each semester.
One lesson, however, has little to do with operating a tractor-trailer, and everything to do with making the country safer for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The Commercial Truck Driving program at SRTC has joined forces with Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) to provide a curriculum that trains student drivers to identify and respond to potential human trafficking activities, which frequently occur at truck stops and other high-traffic areas.
Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. Around the world, it is estimated that there are over 40 million people living in slavery today, according to a press release from SRTC. 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, the press release said. Traffickers find their victims in schools, online, and in public locations. The crime of human trafficking takes place on the streets, in private homes, and even in legitimate businesses such as restaurants, truck stops and motels. Since its founding in 2009, TAT has helped to identify nearly 1,300 victims of human trafficking.
“Daily, defenseless individuals fall prey to traffickers who exploit them for prostitution and other vile and heinous acts,” said Dr. Gerald Green, SRTC Criminal Justice instructor and former agent for the FBI. “Most of these victims are women and children. To avoid detection, traffickers continuously move and relocate victims from location to location. Truckers, who also travel from location to location and state to state, can provide observed intelligence to include word of mouth and overheard chatter in public locations to the attention of law enforcement who can conduct appropriate follow up investigations. Our collaboration with Truckers Against Trafficking has become another key weapon to assist law enforcement in combating human trafficking.”
SRTC’s CDL program is able to use TAT's free educational materials to train students in a classroom setting, the college said. The college issues all graduates a TAT Wallet Card with national hotline numbers. TAT-trained drivers are not expected or instructed to intervene if they see something suspicious. Instead, the program trains drivers to observe and report suspicious activity to law enforcement agencies.
SRTC’s Criminal Justice Program Chair Karen Murray said that this is the latest in a series of concerted efforts of the trucking industry to make the world a safer place.
“CDL drivers have been watchful eyes on the highways for drugs and hazard materials, so training them to also watch for human trafficking is fitting,” Murray said. “Unfortunately, Atlanta is a hub for human trafficking because of the airport. Utilizing our commercial drivers to help curtail this serious crime is a partnership that law enforcement needs.”
The TAT organization originally set out to teach truck drivers about trafficking, but TAT has now expanded their reach to train bus drivers, taxi drivers, shipping corps, and even casino security. In the TAT quarterly newsletter, Executive Director and Co-Founder of TAT Kendis Paris said, “Truckers Against Trafficking recognizes that members of these industries are invaluable in the fight against this heinous crime. As the eyes and ears of our nation’s highways, drivers are in a unique position to make a difference and close loopholes to traffickers who seek to exploit our transportation system for their personal gain. I invite interested individuals to visit our website and learn how they can join this worthy cause and save lives.”
Each quarter, the National Human Trafficking Hotline provides TAT with a recap of the tips the hotline has received from truck drivers. The drivers' numerous calls are proof that commercial drivers continue to be observant reporters of potential human trafficking cases across the nation and are doing their part to drive freedom. For more information about TAT, visit the organization online: https://truckersagainsttrafficking.org.