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Drivers help target truck stop sex traffickers

Prostitutes roaming truck stops are nothing new. Anybody who has pulled into a truck stop has seen the “No lot lizards” signs.

If a grown woman chooses to schedule an impromptu date in the cab of a tractor-trailer, that is her prerogative. The problem cropping up in truck plazas lately is far more disturbing, and that is why Nevada-based truckers recently have united to put a stop to it.

Paul Enos, chief operating officer of the Nevada Motor Transport Association, said truck drivers are being asked to join a human trafficking campaign that targets pimps shopping around young girls for sex.

“This is a problem worldwide,” Enos said. “A girl runs away or is kidnapped and taken in by a pimp and not allowed to leave. They show up in vans or Escalades at truck stops, and they are required to work the lot.”

Transporting girls for prostitution is a $32 billion industry worldwide, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Gang members are tapping into the business, choosing to pimp out young girls rather than sell drugs. Drug supplies don’t last; girls being held against their will do.

Not surprisingly, Las Vegas is prime for this type of crime — several organizations list it in the Top 5 in the nation. The sex industry thrives here, and it’s a transient city. Las Vegas is also full of seedy motels with hourly rates. The combination of these factors lures in pimps and makes them more confident that they will move onto the next truck stop without being arrested.

At truck stops, where 50 or 60 big-rigs are parked on any given night, the girls walk from truck to truck, practically unnoticed. In a training video for drivers, truckers explain what they see all across the country. Girls knocking on their door asking if they want a date. Some girls will hit four or five trucks in a half-hour.

Of course, these pimps wouldn’t even bother cruising truck stops if the drivers didn’t partake. So, is the trucking industry asking drivers who take advantage of teenage girls to now call authorities?

“You find a bad apple in every segment of society,” Enos said. “Absolutely the drivers are supportive of this campaign. They have the same reaction that a normal person would. It sickens them. If they see something, they want to take action.”

And, really, before the Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) campaign, truck drivers didn’t know who to call.

Truckers have shared their stories with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. One driver was at a truck stop in Flagstaff, Ariz., and noticed a man in his 30s walking with a girl who looked about 13. It could have been a father-daughter relationship, but what caught his attention is that they were wandering from truck to truck knocking on doors. A fellow driver acknowledged he knew what was happening, but didn’t know where to report the crime.

Now drivers are urged to call the trafficking hot line at 888-3737-888 or 911.

Nevada is the latest state to join the campaign. In 2011, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 185 calls from truckers and about 79 of those calls were related to trafficking at truck stops. The victims, according to TAT, included one male and 33 females; 30 were minors.

“We are the eyes and ears of the highway,” Enos said, noting that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, truckers were called upon to watch for suspicious activity on the nation’s freeways. Now their attention is turning to underage sex slaves.

“We are taking a proactive approach. If you see something, do something about it. Don’t turn a blind eye,” Enos said.

Human trafficking happens everywhere. The Super Bowl is considered a hot spot for pimps. Truck stops are not only plentiful but also consistently busy.

Aside from the obvious — seeing young girls approaching trucks — drivers are being asked to watch for other key signs.

Drivers should be on the lookout for vans or sport utility vehicles full of girls. If it’s obvious that the load of passengers are not a family or a cheerleading squad, make a phone call.

“It’s OK to be wrong,” he said.

Other signs are that the girls have no identification and are unfamiliar with the area. They might look anxious or scared. They could appear to be nervous talking to other people.

“Having the support of Nevada truckers and truck stops will prove vital to the work of Truckers Against Trafficking,” said Kendis Paris, national director of the organization. “This means that thousands more will become educated and equipped about the realities of domestic sex trafficking and how they can help end it.

“When the trucking and truck stop associations take the lead in their state, it causes their membership to understand the importance of this issue and get behind it themselves.”

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an email to roadwarrior
@reviewjournal.com. Include your phone number.

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