July 17, 2017 5:15 PM, EDT

Senators Introduce Human Trafficking Prevention Legislation

Truckers involved in human trafficking would be disqualified for life from operating commercial motor vehicles under legislation the chairman of the freight committee in the Senate introduced this month.

“Human trafficking takes on many different forms and the perpetrators use a variety of tools to recruit and control their victims. Victims of human trafficking are often lured with false promises of well-paying jobs, stability or education,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce Committee during a hearing July 12.

“Because the ways in which humans are exploited differ greatly, the responses needed to disrupt and eradicate trafficking also differ. Solutions involve cooperation among industry, the government and [nongovernmental organizations]. No single entity can tackle this problem alone,” Thune added.

His bill, which garnered bipartisan support from members of his committee, would apply to truckers who are found committing a felony involving human trafficking.

Thune also co-sponsored legislation offered by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that would designate a human trafficking prevention coordinator, as well as expand the authorities of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s outreach and education program. This would pertain to human trafficking prevention activities.

Both bills were referred to committees of jurisdiction for consideration.

According to the International Labour Organization, nearly 21 million people are affected by human trafficking worldwide. Nearly two-thirds of victims are trapped in forced labor, a quarter of them are children, and about half are women, the group said.

Several reports estimate human trafficking is a $150 billion global industry — a figure referenced by Congress.

In 2015, Klobuchar and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) sponsored the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which expanded the resources for combating human trafficking by ensuring proper training for law enforcement officials.

“As our eyes and ears on the road, truckers and commercial drivers are often the first line of defense against human trafficking,” Klobuchar said, in a statement. “By providing training to recognize and report trafficking, we can empower them to prevent this heinous crime across the country.”

Esther Goetsch, with Truckers Against Trafficking, told the senators on July 12 her group would soon launch a campaign focusing on the connection between purchasing commercial sex and sex trafficking. She explained it is important to ensure the enablers of commercial sex understand they are market drivers.

“It is our hope that the professional drivers at the forefront of this campaign will create inspiration for more of these conversations to occur,” Goetsch told the committee. “If every driver and truck stop employee had this life-saving information and training, imagine how many more calls will be made, imagine how many victims will be recovered out of this horrible reality, how many perpetrators, both the traffickers and the buyers of commercial sex, will be arrested.”

Shortly after its introduction, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association pushed back on Thune’s legislation. Todd Spencer, the group’s executive vice president, referred to the bill as redundant and argued it would unfairly target truckers.

“We are exasperated that at a hearing where truckers were applauded for their critical role in combating human trafficking that any lawmaker would single out that same profession for a crime that happens globally,” said Spencer, referring to the July 12 Senate hearing. “Truckers are on the front lines of defense in the battle against this horrendous, global crime by way of identifying, reporting and ultimately preventing it.”

OOIDA, American Trucking Associations and Travel Centers of America are on the Truckers Against Trafficking board of directors. The group conducts outreach programs to educate truckers of the potential signs of trafficking to promote safety at truck stops.