Knowing when to make the call

By Mark Schremmer, staff writer

Parked at a truck stop one evening, Mark saw something that just didn’t seem right to him.

Having received training from Truckers Against Trafficking, he knew what to do. Mark called the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline and told the specially trained advocate that he witnessed two teenage girls climbing into the cab of another truck.

According to TAT, the advocate used Mark’s information and dispatched the hotline’s 24-hour law enforcement contact for the area. When law enforcement arrived on the scene, they placed the minors safely in custody and arrested the “john” for purchasing sex from children.

While TAT omitted many of the details from the incident to protect the victims, it is one of the program’s success stories.

TAT is a nonprofit organization created in 2009, which aims to educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking industry to combat domestic sex trafficking. According to TAT, human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, and the number of victims is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Since the launch of the organization, nearly 1,700 calls have been made to the hotline. Out of those calls, 533 were identified as likely cases of human trafficking. Those cases involved more than 1,100 victims, and more than 300 of the victims were minors.

The progress has been significant, but TAT knows its work isn’t done.

The organization is attempting to make all truckers feel empowered enough to pick up the phone and call the hotline just the way Mark did – even if they don’t feel 100 percent confident they’ve encountered human trafficking.

“I think they should call the minute they see something they find suspicious,” TAT Deputy Director Kylla Lanier said. “Part of the thing the hotline does is help the caller distinguish what they’re seeing and what steps to take. There is no penalty for making a call and it not being trafficking. If it’s not trafficking, that’s fine. We’d rather them call and know that for sure.

“We’d rather you call 10 times and be wrong every time than be right about it and not make the call. That call could save someone’s life.”

But getting witnesses to take that step isn’t always easy.

Lanier said the fear of embarrassment is one of the main obstacles that prevent people from calling.

However, Lanier wants to remind drivers that calling the hotline isn’t the same as calling 911.

“It’s extremely low-risk to call the hotline,” she said. “You’re not using up anyone’s resources. You’re not detracting from an actual crime if you’re not sure. The hotline is the perfect place to call first if you’re not sure about what you’re seeing, but you do have questions about it.”

If it is determined that it is a likely case of trafficking, the tip is going to get passed on to law enforcement officers on the federal level, as well as the state and local levels, who possess a human trafficking training background.

“They will be able to respond appropriately to the situation, get the victims the services they need, and get the perpetrators locked up,” Lanier said.

Another barrier to making that call, Lanier said, is that many people think someone else will take care of it. The best-known case of this phenomena occurred in 1964 in New York. Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman, was stabbed to death outside her apartment building. The New York Times originally reported that more than 30 witnesses saw or heard the attack but didn’t call the police. The incident prompted study into a social psychological phenomenon called the bystander effect.

“If you see something, always err on the side of overdoing it,” Lanier said. “If 12 people make the call, that’s fine. We’d rather have that happen than no one call.”

Appropriately, TAT’s motto is “Make the Call. Save Lives.” The hotline is 888-3737-888. LL