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“I am not a Lot Lizard” is the newest video campaign by Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), a non-profit organization formed to educate trucking professionals about, and enlist truckers in, the effort to combat human trafficking.
Human trafficking may seem like the subject of a Movie of the Week or a crime solving drama on television, but it is all too real. And it’s not necessarily in some far off land, where we can’t see it. In fact, if you travel America’s highways, you may witness human trafficking daily and not even be aware that it’s going on all around you.
Domestic sex trafficking is known to occur in many different locations, including restaurants, brothels, strip clubs, private homes and, all too often, along our nation’s highways in truck stops and rest areas. According to TAT, traffickers target truck stops and rest areas because they believe they can sell their victims to a transient population that is less likely to attempt a rescue. In response, TAT is pleading with the more than 3 million U.S. professional truck operators, as well as other members of the trucking industry, to become more aware of the issue. Awareness, the group hopes, is just the first stage that will lead truckers to report any suspected human trafficking case and ultimately result in the arrest of traffickers and the rescue of their victims.
“Truckers are the eyes and the ears of our nation’s highways,” says Kendis Paris, Executive Director of Truckers Against Trafficking. Landstar recently pledged its support for TAT and the organization’s goals of educating owner-operators about human trafficking. “With its vast network of independent transportation providers, commitment to safety, and extensive influence throughout the industry, having Landstar on board will do much to get this important information in front of the people who need it most. In turn, thousands more will be educated, equipped, empowered and mobilized to identify and report the domestic sex trafficking taking place along our nation's highways.”
Human trafficking, a term for modern-day slavery, is a $32-billion worldwide industry with more than 20.9 million people enslaved. It has been reported in all 50 states, and the number of victims in the United States is estimated in the hundreds of thousands. By definition, any minor engaged in commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the average age of a child targeted for prostitution in the United States is between 11 and 14 years old.
A sex trafficking survivor talks about her experience in the TAT video “I am not a Lot Lizard.” As she explains, she ran away from home, met a pimp and her life was forever changed. “At 15 I was exploited throughout truck stops in the U.S. I was 15, I had no life skills. I had no skills. I was easy to exploit,” says Tajuan McCarty, sex trafficking survivor, advocate and founder of Wellhouse, a restoration home for sexual trafficking survivors.
McCarty is a living proof of FBI statistics which show traffickers use force, fraud and coercion to control their victims. “There is punishment. I was beaten so badly they thought I was going to die,” says McCarty. “Another girl working the same truck stop tapped me on the shoulder and started screaming and crying because she didn’t know who I was, because I was beaten so badly.”
In the video found on www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org, McCarty also talks about the dehumanizing effect of the term “lot lizard” – a term that has been used for years by the trucking industry to describe women, girls and boys who work the travel plazas, rest areas and truck stops by selling sex.
The “Lot Lizard” video also features testimony from professional truck drivers who tell, in their own words, what they’ve personally witnessed in highway truck stops and why they are a part of the organization that asks truckers to become a resource to law enforcement officials in eradicating human trafficking.
Truckers Against Trafficking isn’t asking anyone to intervene by approaching traffickers. In fact, they would prefer that civilians not approach traffickers, because not only is it dangerous for anyone who steps in, as well as the victims, but it could lead to problems in the eventual prosecution of traffickers.
Instead, TAT asks that truckers call a national hotline, which contacts the FBI and local police to deal with the traffickers and rescue the victims. To ensure authorities get the most useful information, TAT provides training materials such as DVDs and wallet cards to companies in the trucking industry to incorporate into their regular trucker training and orientation programs. That way, when trucking professionals suspect human trafficking, they can place a call to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) and report what they’ve seen.
Trafficking Red Flags to Look for:
- Lack of knowledge of their community or whereabouts
- Not in control of own identification documents (ID/passport)
- Restricted or controlled communication – not allowed to speak for themselves
- Demeanor: fear, anxiety and depression; are they submissive, tense or nervous?
Questions to Ask:
- Are you being paid?
- Are you being watched or followed?
- Are you free to leave? Come and go as you please?
- Are you physically or sexually abused? Are you or your family threatened? What is the nature of the threats?
For law enforcement to open an investigation on your tip, they need what’s known as “actionable information.” So be specific when reporting tips to the Hotline. Include:
- Descriptions of cars (make, model, color, license plate number, etc.) and people (height, weight, hair color, eye color, age, etc.)
- Take a picture if you can
- Specific times and dates (When did you see the event in question take place? What day was it?)
- Addresses and locations where the suspicious activity took place
National Hotline: 1-888-3737-888 (Multi-Lingual)
Report by Email: Report@PolarisProject.org
For free, printable wallet-size cards with the hotline number, tips and even more information about how you can help, go to www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org.
Warning: Please do not approach traffickers. Call the hotline, and they will call the FBI and local police to deal with them and rescue the victims. Approaching traffickers is not only dangerous for you and their victims, but could lead to problems in the eventual prosecution of traffickers. Go to www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org for more information.