Jesse Pilant tries to avoid any unsavory places while driving, but that hasn’t stopped him from seeing women and young girls going from truck to truck late at night.
Human trafficking happens all over the country, Pilant says, and he’s hopeful that more truck drivers will learn how to address the problem.
“If (the training) went on with more companies and more drivers out there across the nation, some of these other drivers might take into consideration that that could be their child out there,” Pilant said. “It’s not meant to be that way.”
Starting in July, all new applicants for a commercial driver's license in Kansas will be required to complete anti-human trafficking training before receiving the license. Current CDL holders will have to complete the training, created by Truckers Against Trafficking, before the next regular renewal of their license.
Sex trafficking often occurs at truck stops and rest areas because of their remote locations and the predominantly male drivers, according to anti-human trafficking experts.
Truckers are uniquely placed to respond to human trafficking, said Kevin Hanschu, vice president of risk management at J&H Trucking in Andover, where Pilant works.
“We have a large workforce. It is nationwide,” Hanschu said. “They’re out there in the trenches. They’re out there at the truck stops, aware of where these young children are being solicited and they see it. They’re in a prime spot to combat this.”
Around 150,000 Kansans hold a commercial driver’s license. The number of CDL holders nationwide rises to around 2.4 million.
That means in a four-year cycle, all Kansas commercial drivers will be trained on how to spot and respond to human trafficking, said Tom Whitaker, executive director of the Kansas Motor Carriers Association.
“We have an opportunity to wipe out this social disease," Whitaker said. “For us as an industry, we're participating in creating a safe environment for this country."
Human trafficking is one of the largest and fastest-growing criminal industries in the world, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Both adults and children are victims in Kansas, which is considered an originating state for trafficking.
Since Truckers Against Trafficking became a nonprofit in 2011, nearly 2,000 calls have been made from people in the trucking industry to the national human trafficking hotline. That has resulted in around 557 cases of human trafficking being identified, involving more than 1,000 victims, including many children.
“Members of the trucking industry have been seeing this crime for decades, but for lack of information and understanding about the complexities of what they’re seeing have not always been able to make an impact and be a part of potentially saving a life,” said Laura Cyrus, operations director for Truckers Against Trafficking.
The training lasts about 30 minutes. It includes a video that details signs of possible trafficking: Seeing a person who isn’t allowed to speak, unaccompanied minors, radio chatter about “commercial company,” someone without an ID, people who seem uncomfortable about the person they’re with, signs of bruising. Truckers are advised to ask questions like “Are you traveling by yourself?” and “When’s the last time you saw your family?”
People should call the national human trafficking hotline, 888-373-7888, if they suspect that someone has been trafficked, the video says.
Arkansas and Kansas are the only states that require the training for drivers who already hold their commercial license. Several other states require the training for entry level drivers, Cyrus said.