By Heather Larson
While filling out his paperwork at a truck stop outside of Richmond, Va., professional driver Kevin Kimmel noticed a beat-up RV in the parking lot. A man approached the vehicle, knocked on the door, and went inside. When Kimmel looked again, he glimpsed a young girl looking out the window, but she quickly vanished as though someone had yanked her away. Then a black curtain was jerked across the window.
“That doesn’t seem like an average family situation,” Kimmel thought to himself. Because of his Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) training, he thought something wasn’t quite right, so he grabbed his phone and called the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Within five minutes, four different law enforcement officers arrived on the scene.
Kimmel’s second look led to the arrest of two human traffickers, the release of one victim, and possibly others. Now, thanks to Busing on the Lookout (BOTL) training, bus drivers (as well as terminal workers, maintenance staff, dispatch operators, ticket counter personnel, and more) can also contribute to the takedown of human trafficking across the nation.
With BOTL’s free training (much like the TAT training), people in the bus industry can learn some of the common characteristics that trafficking victims may exhibit. According to BOTL Program Director Annie Sovcik, some red flags to watch for include:
- Someone who doesn’t speak for herself or himself
- Someone who appears to be controlled by another person
- Someone who looks dirty and disheveled
When Mark Ertel, director of operations at Trans-Bridge Lines in Bethlehem, Pa., took the BOTL training, he was surprised to learn victims were often hesitant to answer questions. He also appreciated the wallet card he received after watching the 30-minute training video. The card lists several characteristics shown by victims so drivers don’t have to remember them all.
“It’s so easy to make a difference,” said Ertel. “The training is easy to complete and provides the trainee with the information they need to assist anyone who is in trouble.”
During the rollout of the BOTL training, drivers will continue to receive new tips, examples, and updates on trends to make sure the information stays fresh, Sovcik said. For instance, the tips below are specifically for school bus drivers who routinely see the same student riders. These drivers should warn an authority when:
- A student has frequent absences
- A student has mood swings and/or cries frequently
- A student owns the latest tech gadgets or sports a new manicure or hairdo (often part of the grooming process)
- A student has a new tattoo, possibly on the neck (indicating the victim may have been branded)
In next week’s issue of The Insider, we’ll continue to explain the goals of BOTL and how the bus industry can help combat this horrific crime.
Heather Larson writes about a variety of business issues from her office in Tacoma, Wash.