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Episode 12: Combating Human Trafficking in the Trucking Industry with Laura Cyrus, Senior Director of Industry Training and Outreach for Truckers Against Trafficking

Intro – 00:00:01:

Welcome to Freight Nation: A Trucking Podcast, where we explore the fascinating world of trucking and freight management. We dive deep into the freight industry and uncover why the trucking industry is more crucial to our country now than ever before. Stay tuned to uncover the driving forces behind successful trucking businesses and hear from the hardworking truckers and leaders who keep the world moving. Let’s hit the road.

Brent – 00:00:27:

Welcome back to Freight Nation, a podcast by truckstop.com. Thank you so much for joining us again, whether you’re listening or whether you’re watching, we really appreciate you being a part of something. And welcome to January. Welcome to 2024, a new year, a new year of opportunities and a new year to recognize something that’s super important in our industry and super important that is an issue around the world and something that at Truckstop we’re happy to be a part of, because when you see something that needs to be corrected, go and do it. And so we always want to be about that as a business. And we want to be about that as humans that work together in this industry. And so joining us today is Laura Cyrus of Truckers Against Trafficking. And this month is the International Human Trafficking Awareness Month. And I think I got that right, Laura, right?

Laura – 00:01:16:

Well, technically, January is the US in recognizing the United States National Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Brent – 00:01:22:

So it’s not about US, but it should be International Human Trafficking Awareness. So really appreciate joining us today to talk about this super important topic. Trucking has the opportunity to do something about it because we’re the eyes and ears all over the United States. And, you know, truckers are, of course, around the world. And joining me today, a little pre-introduction there with Laura, is Laura Cyrus, the Senior Director of Industry Training and Outreach for Truckers Against Trafficking. We’re old friends. We’ve been around a long time. I stumbled a little bit on her title there. She’s got a long title, but it’s her job to make sure that people know about Truckers Against Trafficking and helping them to understand how they can help defeat it. Laura, thank you so much for joining us on Freight Nation today and bringing your story.

Laura – 00:02:02:

Thanks for having me. I’m super excited, especially to have this conversation in January. So thanks for the time.

Brent – 00:02:07:

Yeah, no doubt. Well, it’s an important one. It really is. Now, you’ve been with Truckers Against Trafficking for more than a decade.

Laura – 00:02:16:

Yep.

Brent – 00:02:16:

This is a cool thing, Freight Nation. She’s had the opportunity to help train 1.7 million people on how to recognize it and how to work with law enforcement and work with the authorities in mind to help to defeat it. And so she has had a major impact. You can tell the heart and soul of Laura just in that number itself, the fact that she would go out and do that. So, Laura, I am sure that when you were a little girl, this was something you went, this is what I want to get into. My guess is probably not. I wanted to be Spiderman, okay, when I was little. So my guess is that there was a pathway in your life that led you to this. And because everybody at Freight Nation loves to hear the story, someone’s personal story, give us the unedited long version. How you got to where you are today with Truckers Against Trafficking?

Laura – 00:03:05:

Sure. Well, it is a great story. And if I think back when I was in elementary school, I think at that time, it was popular to want to be like a paleontologist or an oceanographer, one of these. I mean, that’s where my trajectory was going, but really was thinking that I was really interested in music and theater and song and dance and did all of that kind of stuff growing up and through high school and was really hoping to study that. And my senior year of high school actually got super sick, almost missed my graduation, missed like the last three weeks of senior year and ended up going to a state school close to where I grew up that I really, my whole life, I said, “I’m not going to go to that school. My mom worked there and it just grew up in the shadow of this university”, right? And just thought, I’m getting out and going somewhere else. That didn’t happen. And as it turns out, that was a great thing and was kind of undecided as what I was going to study and really just trying to get through kind of some hard situations. And it actually wasn’t. Until I had a pretty significant personal trauma that happened that really sort of reoriented the course of my life and got interested in sort of, I don’t want to say social justice, but social justice issues and women’s issues and really fighting to protect women. And I started studying criminal justice and thought, you know, I’m going to work for a domestic violence shelter or a police department, or I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do. But my senior year of undergrad, I went and I heard a missionary speak on the issue of human trafficking, which funny enough, I hadn’t heard anything about in any of my criminal justice coursework, which you would think is kind of, you know, at least nowadays, you would think it’d be part of the curriculum of a criminal justice student because it’s such a big issue. But back then, there really wasn’t. And so I went and I heard this missionary speak and she was talking about her work overseas and brought the issue of trafficking. And so I was thinking for all of us Americans back to the US in an American context and was talking actually about a sweatshop, a case of a sweatshop in California where there were workers forced labor victims being forced to make garments that were sold all over the place. But one of the places was major department stores. And at the time, I had literally weeks before had just purchased two dresses from Macy’s. I’m not saying these dresses were sold at Macy’s or whatever. But I had just made these two purchases and I was sitting there thinking, how have I never considered who is producing my clothing or the coffee that I drink every morning or my chocolate or the rubber in my tires or all of these things that just I think as consumers in a globalized world, like you don’t think about that. You think about what kind of deal can I get or, “oh, that’s beautiful. And I want to have that”. And it just was this moment, a very convicting moment of like. I can do better. I can do better than this. And I really felt that night called to do something related to the anti-trafficking sphere. I didn’t know what that was going to look like or how I was going to get there. But anyway, fast forward, graduated from undergrad right as the recession was taking place

Brent – 00:06:22:

This is around 2008?

Laura – 00:06:24:

Around 2008.

Brent – 00:06:25:

The great recession.

Laura – 00:06:26:

Yes. And did not get a job in my field because, of course, everybody wanted people with experience. And how do you get experience if no one will give you experience? So I had this moment and ended up kind of, this is a long story, but went into business with, when I was in undergrad, I managed the psychological practice of a local psychologist. And about that time, he was getting ready to retire. And he said, “I want to do something different. I want to write a book. I want to start a blog. And you’re not finding a job. Would you like to just come work with me and kind of co-run this business?” And I said, “sure. I have no business experience, but I’ll help you. I’ll see what I can learn”. And so anyway, we set out on this really fun journey. I helped him build a website. I learned how to do web editing. And we had a radio show. And we did all of these things. I did editing and video editing and all these different things that I had no previous experience in. And we had a really great time. But ultimately, I tell you, life puts you on interesting trajectories, right? So he came to me about four years later and said, “this has been great, but I’m actually feeling called to go get an MDiv, Masters of Divinity, and to change”. He was about 70 years old at the time. And I was like, “yes, go for it. I feel like I need to go to graduate school. I’m ready to really start pursuing this anti-trafficking sort of passion that I had”. And so we went our separate ways, closed the business. I moved out to Colorado and went to the University of Denver and did Masters in International Human Rights and Forced Labor and Human Trafficking. And really, from that point, I mean, truly kind of decided this is my life’s work. So anyway, as I was a student there doing my graduate work, I interned with Truckers Against Trafficking. And at that time, it was just our former Founder, Co-Founder, and first Executive Director, Kendis Paris. And she was a one-woman show trying to really move the needle and needed an intern to help her do some things. So I mean, I’m telling you, I was in the mailroom. The mailroom was my house. I was sending out wallet cards and training DVDs and all these things and helping her do all kinds of stuff. But as it turns out, and this is just an encouragement to anybody listening. You think about all these random experiences that you have in your life, the web editing, the video editing, the podcast editing, all these things that I initially thought, this is cool that I’m doing this, but why am I doing this? All of those things ended up serving so well to help TAT in the initial springboard of creating and advancing a website and putting out some materials. And so to get to be a part of that from pretty much the beginning was really, really neat. So yes, I’ve been around for over a decade, have held many positions and done so much of what our organization does. But we are now over 20 staff members coast to coast here across the US. And it’s just been really neat to be a part of the growth and the vision of the organization.

Brent – 00:09:37:

Yeah, that’s super cool. Well, I mean, What I hear is young Laura had a heart to help people. In our base human nature, that’s what we are. We really want to help people. I got to experience that through a natural disaster here in Tuscaloosa, where I watched the goodness of people help my family directly. And then thousands and thousands who were affected by the crazy tornadoes of 2011 here in Tuscaloosa and the Southeast. And so I’ve seen that heart in people. And I see the same thing in you, Laura, which is super great. What I found interesting when you were talking about your story in the beginning is that you mentioned some challenges at school, a personal crisis, some other things. And it’s amazing how adversity creates opportunity in your life. And let me ask you, did it allow you to really like focus on something that allow you as a person to like focus intently on a specific thing?

Laura – 00:10:38:

I had to focus intently on keeping it together. I mean, it was truly a life-changing experience. It had a stalker, essentially, and had a felonious stalking and physical assault situation that occurred. And it was fine for a while. And then the weight of everything that had happened over the period of a couple of years really hit me. And truly, it felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath my feet and withdrew from school. I mean, this is a whole thing. The story is way too long for our podcast today. But you’re right. And I think the point and the challenge when we face adversity in life is really kind of deciding once you get to a point. There’s so much healing. There’s so much stuff that you have to go through to kind of get to this point. But then it’s a decision of, I can either let this continue to bring me down and to hold me back, or I can move forward with hope and strength and just say, not today. I’m going to keep going. Tomorrow’s a new day. And I’m going to try to overcome these situations. And so, yes, it brought that place. And so it was just this neat sort of timing of like I was in that place of trying to gather strength and keep moving. And I heard this missionary speak, and I felt like, okay, this is something that I could do. And it just felt like all of a sudden, even in the midst of all this darkness and badness, that there was this purpose and this direction. And I just clung to that with everything that I had and said, okay, I’m going to make something out of this situation and go and, like you said, just ultimately help people. So.

Brent – 00:12:12:

I heard it said one time that your misery often becomes your ministry. And I know for me, it has been in my life. That’s a longer story, too. But it’s such a cool thing. And the thing I also heard in your story, Laura, and thank you so much for sharing it with Freight Nation today, is that you just took the opportunity when it was presented to you. You worked with a psychologist guy and you said, “I didn’t have experience with that”. But you know what? You’re smart. You’re capable. You know how to do those things. And guess the biggest thing is you can learn. You can no matter what it is. I got five kids. I’m telling them all the time. You can learn anything. Everybody else did. What makes you think they’re any smarter than you? They’re not. So get after. So you learn through the psychologist guy. You were promoting. You were doing. You were helping. You’re doing whatever is needed to create success. And then when you went back to grad school in Denver, you got the fortune of interning with the group that you now work with now. By the way, Freight Nation, when you hear Laura say TAT, she means Truckers Against Trafficking. So just so you know, when you work somewhere, we acronym everything, especially in trucking. But that is so cool that here it is that you have this heart for helping others and for things to be that aren’t right to be correct or right. That’s justice. That’s social justice, right? Things that aren’t right to be very right. And that’s our world we live in. So here you are. You get this opportunity. So tell me about when you first met Kendis, just a little bit of it. But obviously there was something there that you said, “I’m sticking with this”. So tell a little bit about that story. And then I want to talk a little bit about the impact after that, the impact that Truckers Against Trafficking, TAT, is making in the marketplace. And then I want to talk about others that have been involved. So tell me a little bit about Kendis and then we’ll jump into impact.

Laura – 00:13:54:

Yeah, it was so neat to meet her initially. I mean, she is just fantastic lady, just so driven, so focused. And I think I knew about TAT before I had interned. Even before I started grad school, it was about the time that they had released their initial training video. And I had seen it and thought, wow, this organization is doing such a neat thing. Like what a niche opportunity to train drivers who are out there over the road, like literally trained to read all of the signs as they’re going down the highway. Why wouldn’t we train them to recognize human trafficking that we know is intersecting in the places where drivers may be every day? And so I was just so impressed with the organization and of course with her. And when we had this first interview, I just thought, “oh man, can I please, please be the one”. And as it turns out, it worked out and I have stuck around because of the impact and because of the people, not only of our internal team, but our partners. I mean, working with the industry. Seeing how many people across all of the industries that we serve now really rally behind this mission and say that we can do this. Like this is an easy thing. You’re providing free training. It’s easily implemented. It doesn’t take very long. And it is, as you mentioned, it is proving to provide actionable strategies that are leading to the recovery and disruption of human trafficking across North America. And so when we talk about impact, I mean, obviously the 1.7 plus million people that we have trained is one of those things. But ultimately it comes back to the thousands and thousands of calls and tips that truck drivers alone have made that have helped to identify and recover victims of human trafficking across North America. And I think as we have grown and scaled over the years, which has been another really neat thing to watch happen and be a part of, we are so much more than sort of just Truckers Against Trafficking. That’s how we got started. That’s our base. But we have training for the bus industry, for the energy industry, for law enforcement, right? We are working to educate the corporate audiences, the corporate folks behind the desks of the organizations that we’re working with in all of these sectors on how they as parents, as community members can be a part of this. You referenced just how horrible and how global in nature this crime is. It’s everywhere. And it takes all of us to do our part. It’s not Laura Cyrus. Truckers Against Trafficking. Any one individual or one organization is not going to end human trafficking on our own. It takes all of us every day doing what we can do, being educated, being willing in that moment to make a call. And so anyway, just whatever we can do to equip and empower more and more members of these industries that we serve is really what it’s all about. So it’s neat to be a part of.

Brent – 00:16:47:

No doubt. So you saw somebody that had the same purpose that you did. And like purposes joined together to make an impact to help everyone else. You talked about truckers. And I think about what category were truckers put in during the pandemic. They were put in the same category as health providers, right? Which because if we can’t get food. I’m not worried about Air Jordans and everything else. But if we can’t get food, we humans don’t do very well. So truckers were put in that same category as necessary and required, and they can’t not do their job. And so you think about the impact they made over the pandemic because they were the ones providing this. And you think about the billions of miles they drive every year all over every square inch of our country. And how they can recognize, because they’re very observant, they can help recognize. And so the fact that you’ve trained 1.7 million people, it’s incredible. And the fact that you’re going in to other verticals, into the bus and office and everywhere else, because this is an issue for all of us, because what affects some of us affects all of us, especially when it comes to this. And I know we say trafficking and it’s the sort of common day word, but in my mind, it’s just modern day slavery. You know, so how are we working towards creating an environment where everyone is seen as equal in value? And it does not include trafficking anywhere. Doesn’t include that. So thank you so much for telling that story. So let’s talk about some of the things. What I want to talk about now is that how can more people get involved? Because that’s the difference, right? As they say in Washington, D.C., if you’re not at the table, you’re on the plate. You don’t want to be on the plate. You want to be at the table. You want to be involved. So you guys have such great resources. Let’s talk about, where those can be found? What’s the process to go through it? If a company wants to get involved, if an individual wants to get involved, what do they need to do? What’s in the process? And then what do they need to do to become part of the Truckers Against Trafficking team towards solving this, helping to solve this major issue?

Laura – 00:18:55:

Yeah. So we have specific pathways of engagement for all of the industries that we serve. And even within the industries, I think of the ways we work with brokers and 3PLs or the ways we work with trucking companies or the ways we work with owner operators, there’s something for everybody to do. And so ultimately, right, the main goal is to get everybody trained with our free awareness training videos. And currently, as it relates to trucking, we’ve got one specific to OTR , we’ve got one specific to local and kind of more regional folks, those that are operating locally or not staying at truckstops, or rest areas, and then also something for the in-home delivery sector, professional movers, white glove service, all of that kind of stuff. So we have those three training options within trucking. And what we’re asking, especially companies or carriers to do is make that a part of new driver orientation, or a quarterly safety meeting that you have or assign it an LMS platform that you may have.

Brent – 00:19:51:

Now, what’s an LMS platform again?

Laura – 00:19:53:

Learning Management System. Yes

Brent – 00:19:54:

There you go. Thank you.

Laura – 00:19:56:

Yep. So get that training out. However you deploy, we work with all kinds of folks, we work with external learning management software providers in the industry, if a company has an internally managed LMS that they’re using, if they are literally doing old school, you know, come in and watch a video together and a safety meeting type of situation. We’ve got training options for everybody. So watching that video is the first thing having a wallet card or our newly released app to have those red flags at your fingertips to know those numbers for reporting. If you’re not sure if what you’re looking at is human trafficking, you can reference some of those red flags, you can make a call to the national hotline or 911. Or depending on where you are, there may be a local hotline that you can report to.

Brent – 00:20:43:

All right, so hold on, you still have a card, which means you have the phone number and information to make a report. And then you guys just, re-released your app to make it even better. Talk a little bit more about that. Because look, when you see something wrong, people often, they need to do something right then, especially with traffic. I want to hit that again. That’s super important.

Laura – 00:21:03:

Thank you for calling that out because time is of the essence. Traffickers are routinely keeping their victims in transit. They’re moving them. And so your call, no matter who you are or where you are, making that call immediately is one of the best things you can do. And so the app or the wallet card, they both have those red flags. The two main red flags we’re asking folks to look out for. Anytime they see a minor that they believe may be engaged in commercial sex, anytime they believe they’re witnessing someone under the control of a pimp, or they’re just not sure. These red flags that are on the app can help folks really understand, yes, I’m seeing two or three of these things. I really think that this might be trafficking. And then the app is going to help them determine the best number, depending on where they’re located, the best number to report that. So for years, we have been sharing the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which we do not run. I think there’s some confusion around that. They think that the number is actually TATs and that we take the tips and all that. We don’t. We just promote the National Hotline, which is 1-888-3737-888, 1-888-3737-888. And we say it that way to hopefully help people remember. But if you’re seeing a crime in progress and more and more, we are encouraging folks to just call 911 directly. Also, the neat thing about this app, the re-release, is that where they exist. So we’ve worked to vet local or state hotlines, regional hotlines, and where they exist in the country. If you happen to be traveling through that area and you pull up the app and you say, “hey, I need to make a report, I need to report a tip”. It will tell you if there is a localized hotline that you can call and that be the place that you direct that call. So it’s really helping get the tips into the right hands of the right entities, which ultimately will lead to faster response and all these things. So it’s really neat. We’re excited to see how it will become a better reporting tool. Again, it’s depending on which industry you select, when you first open that app, you can see red flags that are drilled down to your specific line of work. School bus driver is going to see very different red flags on a daily basis than an over-the-road truck driver or a rideshare driver or somebody working in the energy industry, right? And so there’s the opportunity to read all of these red flags. But the neat thing is we’re going to help people drill down to get the information right away that they need specific to their job. And again, so much more than just with truck drivers now, right? So we needed a tool that could really help all of our constituents that we’re working with get that information and know what to do.

Brent – 00:23:37:

That’s great. Well, so I got two follow up questions. So, you mentioned that you guys are even helping to train parcel delivery. Okay. So with the Amazon effect in our world, which is everything gets delivered to our doorstep of our homes, you get to see so much more. Truckers see it in a broad format. In other words, you can’t pull an 18-wheeler up to somebody’s house. It’s a little difficult. But parcel delivery is different. It’s fascinating that you guys are looking to work with them. I certainly hope you’re working with the major parcel delivery groups in the United States because obviously they impact everything. Are you working with them as well on training?

Laura – 00:24:16:

We are.

Brent – 00:24:17:

And then so in my second question, this is all in the same one. Is there a cost for a company to get trained under Truckers Against Trafficking?

Laura – 00:24:26:

Great question. There is not. It is free. It is free. So it only comes down to the company’s time and how they’re going to share that training with their employees or their contractors. We wanted there to be as few barriers as possible for getting this information out into the hands of all those frontline people. So, yeah, there is no cost. We do not charge for any of our training materials.

Brent – 00:24:48:

That’s incredible. So what you’re saying is that you guys rely on groups in the industries to provide funding for you guys. I bring this up because it’s important when you’re talking about something as important as human trafficking and what trucking can do against it. It’s important to talk to that because one thing in my 26 years, Laura, one of the things I love about trucking, is that we’re a generous industry. We give back because we know the impact it makes and we know what it means because along the way, people have helped us. And so people in trucking are really super generous. So let’s talk a little bit about how people can get involved from the standpoint of helping you. Look, broadcasting the message is the most important thing. The other thing you can do is get involved from the standpoint of contributing funds, cash or like kind valuable things that Truckers Against Trafficking utilize to get more of the message out to help save more people. So tell me a little bit about what goes on there and how people can get involved in that?

Laura – 00:25:47:

Yeah. So we rely on the generous support of the industry predominantly through our corporate sponsorships, which are donations, right? That companies have said, we want to invest in this work alongside of you. We are truly partners in this with you. And we value the work that this organization is doing to help. It’s not just about TAT. It’s about the network leadership and the coalitions of people that we are building to bring in as a part of this effort. And that includes all of our corporate partners, whether they become sponsors or not. So yes, we rely on generous funding from those folks. And we have a variety of levels of corporate sponsorship and different benefits that go with those different levels. But individuals too, if you want to make a one-time $25 donation, or you want to become a monthly donor or whatever it is, you want to give a year-end donation later on, all of it really and truly goes back to our mission and to help us further this work, to get this education out, and to ultimately what that translates into is lives that are being changed and saved by the work of all of us together.

Brent – 00:26:52:

Yeah, fantastic. For Freight Nation out there, if you’ve got a business or something, maybe use this as an example. So what we did at Truckstop to be involved with Truckers Against Trafficking was we made a contribution as a company, and then we as a company choose three different nonprofit entities that help affect our society. And we allow our employees to contribute to those year-end or anytime during the year. And it more than doubled the contribution that we were able to bring to Truckers Against Trafficking. And that’s in truckstops, 750 people. So that was another way that if you have a business out there that you can highlight a way that it makes it easy for everybody in your business to be involved at their own choice. So that’s super unique. And so let me ask a question because you mentioned this earlier. And I want to talk, we’re talking about impact and how people can get involved. And I want to kind of give the why. And this may be hard for some people to hear. And I get this, but we have to be real in life. You know, we’re all adults and we want to make sure we’re helping to solve problems, especially ones that affect us so deeply. Who are the main people that get traffic? What gender, what segment, what are some of this? Because I want people to be able to recognize this. So when you’re out there trying to make an impact, look, saying something about is the most important contributions to help fund this, to keep things moving forward, but understanding what to look for. So Laura, talk a little bit about that. And then I want to talk about the groups that have gotten involved and we can wrap it up in a few minutes.

Laura – 00:28:18:

Absolutely. So when we think about the scope of trafficking globally, there are estimated to be over 50 million victims.

Brent – 00:28:25:

Oh, did you say 50 million?

Laura – 00:28:27:

Yes. That includes forced labor, forced sex, child soldiering, organ trafficking. I mean, it’s truly a wide variety of exploitation that’s taking place. And we know it’s happening when we drill down into the United States. In every single state, the National Hotline reports cases of human trafficking from coast to coast, every state, inner city, rural areas, suburbs. I mean, we have cases of this in million-dollar neighborhoods and sort of the roughest areas of town and everywhere in between. I want people to understand, even though it’s hard to fathom that this could be happening in your backyard, the reality is it likely is. And so you’re right. You have to understand what it is you’re looking for. This is happening to men, women, boys, girls. I mean, it’s happening to everybody, but we especially need to consider women and girls predominantly. It’s not to say it doesn’t happen to men and boys because it absolutely does. And more and more, we’re hearing those stories. But who are the most vulnerable among us? It’s our kids, right? And thousands of children are at risk in the United States each year of being trafficked. And when you think about anybody from a child or an adult perspective, if you have any kind of vulnerability, you are more susceptible to the forceful and manipulative methods of human traffickers. They are master manipulators. They know how to prey on people on the margins and how to woo them, to groom them, to win their trust. One thing especially that I want parents to hear, we have this idea. I think a lot of us have seen lots of Hollywood movies or Law & Order: SVU or all these things, crime show junkies out there. But Hollywood and TV has made us think that trafficking typically fits in a neat box and you get kidnapped off the street or you’re on an international trip and your daughter gets snatched or something. These things absolutely do happen. There are a certain percentage of cases that begin with kidnapping. But by and large, the majority of these victims know their trafficker. And almost 40% of the child trafficking cases identified, there was some family member involvement to begin with, which is really disheartening and hard to stomach. But if we understand what trafficking actually looks like, we are more apt to be able to identify it and to be able to prevent it and help our kids from falling prey and victim to these traffickers. So one of the things that we have to consider with trafficking, it involves force, fraud and coercion. Those are the methods that traffickers use to keep their victims under their control. It sounds so strange to us as adults. I mean, if it sounds too good to be true, we know it usually is too good to be true. But as a developing young person, especially if you’re experiencing abuse or neglect or you’re coming from the foster care system or any number of different vulnerabilities, substance abuse or dependence as adults or kids, all of these different things. If you have somebody that is all of a sudden speaking into your life, giving you attention, providing you a safe place to live, maybe you’re, again, you’re fleeing something from home and you think, life out on the street is going to be better than whatever it is that I’m having to endure in my own home from my own parents or family. If you have somebody that is speaking into those places of lack in your life, that is how traffickers begin to woo and to groom and to earn the trust of their victims. And then at one day, one point, everything will change. And the terms of that relationship change. Anyway, we think about social media. We think about all these different things, ways and channels that traffickers have to get to our kids, especially. It’s not just as simple as like, “oh, be careful at the supermarket, exit, whatever. There’s creepy people in the parking lot or I was being followed around the store. We see these viral things go on Facebook or social media”. Can it happen that way? Yes. But I will tell you, it is much less risky for a trafficker instead of in broad daylight in a public place trying to snatch you or your kid. They are going to use social media, your kid is going to be on the couch in your own home safe every night. Who are they talking to online? What kind of relationships are these traffickers trying to groom with them? So anyway, it’s a whole thing, but we have tons of resources on our website. I wish we had hours and hours to talk about this because clearly I could keep going. But getting trained, understanding these nuances and really helping to protect our kids, especially, but everybody that may be experiencing vulnerabilities. That’s how we help to insulate folks from trafficking.

Brent – 00:32:57:

You talked about child safety. So you said child soldiering. You mind defining that real quick? What is child soldiering?

Laura – 00:33:03:

Yeah, so that is where groups, guerrilla groups, will essentially kidnap or coerce young people into soldiering efforts. This happens a lot overseas where we see these guerrilla groups coming in and kidnapping young boys, especially, to be a part of military efforts and forcing them to fight, forcing them to learn how to kill and unfortunately be killed. But yeah, it’s a big problem. It’s another super dark aspect.

Brent – 00:33:33:

I want to make sure you define that because I’d never heard of that. Certainly for work and sex, but I’d never heard the child soldiering thing. So thank you for defining that. So safety of individuals is sort of a catch word today. And I want to be safe or safe spaces. And everyone thinks about like the trigger mentality. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the actual true safety of someone when it comes to someone out there. And it’s interesting. Most people don’t know this, that Laura, what you said about that usually the person that is abducting them, it’s somebody they know. Most people don’t know that. I’ve been trained several occasions on child safety issues, and it is always enlightening every time I have to go. I have to do it every two years to really inform yourself. And this is what we’re talking about, Frey Nation. Inform yourself on how you can recognize this, because as with most things that happen in our life, you don’t know about it till you learn about it. Learn to be able to recognize it. And you can defeat evil when you know what evil looks like. So super important. So that’s a great thing. So as I mentioned before, thank you for talking about that, Laura. It’s hard for people to talk about it because nobody wants to think about this. Nobody. But I’m glad you’re out there fighting the fight and trucking is joining in. So I know that trucking is involved in this. I know that one of the associations that Truckstop is a part of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, the TIA, another great acronym, is involved. And I’ve seen you on stage up there and doing great things. And so TIA is one. Talk about some of the associations and larger groups that are trucking that are involved in Truckers Against Trafficking.

Laura – 00:35:11:

Oh, gosh. And I don’t want to forget anybody. So I’m sure I will. But yeah, you think of ATA, American Trucking Associations, and all of the state trucking associations. We’ve got the TIA. We’ve got National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools. We’ve got the Truckstop Associations. Truly, I feel like we’re, I don’t want to say we’re saturating the market, but we are working with so many amazing people.

Brent – 00:35:36:

Let’s not say saturating because we need as many people involved as possible.

Laura – 00:35:39:

That’s right.

Brent – 00:35:40:

We’re progressing along.

Laura – 00:35:43:

There’s always room for more help. But yeah, I mean, it’s really neat to see, again, associations and companies and organizations coming on to say this absolutely aligns. We want to be a part of this. This is a no brainer. So we definitely appreciate. And again, to Truckstop everything that you guys have done in the way that you’ve helped us to advance this mission and get the word out is I mean, that’s how it gets done. So thank you.

Brent – 00:36:05:

We are happy to be a partner. And I know that you guys do an award every year, which is called the Harriet Tubman Award, I believe.

Laura – 00:36:11:

Yes.

Brent – 00:36:12:

And so I wanted to talk a little bit about it and then talk about how people can get involved in it.

Laura – 00:36:16:

Yeah. So our Harriet Tubman Award was something we created a few years ago to honor the real life change makers out there on the front lines that are making calls.

Brent – 00:36:25:

Tell everybody who Harriet Tubman is. They may not know who Harriet Tubman is.

Laura – 00:36:28:

Oh, man. If you don’t know who Harriet Tubman is, we have a problem. Yes. But we wanted to honor the work that she did. I mean, from the Underground Railroad perspective, she was helping people get to freedom, right? She never lost one of her passengers. So Harriet Tubman wanted to honor the legacy of this amazing woman, an abolitionist. And what we are seeking to do is collect nominations of truck drivers, bus drivers, energy workers, truck stop folks. I mean, anyone that has made a call resulting in somebody being recovered out of a human trafficking situation. And the prize comes with a twenty five hundred dollar cash prize, a beautiful award, a beautiful recognition of this. And currently the Harriet Tubman is presented by our partners at Protective Insurance. So they help us to really elevate.

Brent – 00:37:16:

Another great partner. Yeah.

Laura – 00:37:17:

This award. Yes. I have gone this far and not even mentioned how insurance can get involved. But right, there’s so many different folks. But essentially we rely on nominations. So if you are a driver and you have made a call that has helped or you believe it has helped to recover someone out of a trafficking situation, please let us know. Let your company know. We love to have companies nominate drivers. You can also be nominated yourself or from a friend or family member. We do accept those nominations. We’re accepting them now for our 2024 award. And we do. We go through and thoroughly vet all of those cases to make sure that the information is true and we can understand a little bit about the story. But it is just so amazing to hear the real life impact and the stories of folks that have been trained. They were in the right place at the right time. They made a call and it resulted in somebody being recovered out of a trafficking situation.

Brent – 00:38:16:

Super cool. So you guys have a 2023 winter, right? This year of the personnel. Can you tell who that is? And can you give a little bit of the story of what the call was?

Laura – 00:38:24:

Yes. So Joe Aguayo was our winner for 2023 based out of the Mountain West area, driver for WinCo Foods. And he had been trained literally weeks before. We had a staff member that went to the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous in 2022 and spoke on TAT. And WinCo got so excited. Hey, we want to implement this training. They took it back. They shared the information with their drivers. About two weeks later, Joe was driving in a mountainous area and it was desolate. It was nighttime dusk. And he came upon this woman on the side of the highway, totally alone in this remote location, wrapped only in a beach towel. Her head had been shaved. Joe was obeying an explicit company policy not to have unapproved riders in his cab. He also didn’t have cell service in this particular area, but because of the route that he was on, he knew there was a police call box about 10 miles ahead. So he kept driving, pulled over when he got to the call box, made a call, said, “Hey, I saw this woman. I don’t know what’s going on. She needs help. I’m sorry. I’m not there any longer, but this is approximately where she was. Can you please investigate?” Goes about his day, continues on his route. About two months later, he was in that same general location and it was wintertime and he had a weather related accident. And the trooper that was helping him in that situation. Joe, nobody was hurt. He was fine, but, you know, had to do all this paperwork. Joe kind of casually mentioned, you know, hey, I made this call a couple months ago about this woman that was on the side of the road. Do you know what happened to her? I kid you not. The trooper that was helping him was the same trooper that assisted that woman and ended up finding her, taking her to the hospital. She had been abused. She was had been drugged. She was a trafficking victim, an indigenous woman from about three hours away. Her traffickers had dumped her there in that location. But the trooper was able to get her to the hospital where she was able to have a caseworker. And we don’t know the rest of that part of the story because of confidentiality. We don’t know the trajectory of her story. Hopefully she has found help and is working to recover from that situation. But what that trooper said was Joe’s call absolutely saved that woman’s life. It was snowing. It was super cold. She was naked under her beach towel. And she had no food, no cell phone. I mean, they had dumped her there. And it was the second trafficking victim that law enforcement had found in that particular area within a couple year span. So they think that it’s the location where these traffickers may be purposefully dumping their victims once they’re done with them. So anyway, Joe was our winner for 2023.

Brent – 00:41:08:

Joe Aguayo, that’s awesome.

Laura – 00:41:09:

Got to meet him, got to hear his story.

Brent – 00:41:12:

We’re stepping up and educating their drivers. And look at the impact that they’ve had. That’s incredible.

Laura – 00:41:19:

Yep. That’s all it takes.

Brent – 00:41:20:

Yeah. And a little bit about link. So, yeah. Fantastic. What a great story, Laura. That is so great. So, that’s a perfect way for us to end our podcast today. And I just want to say from the bottom of my heart and from the bottom of truckstop’s heart and just to you and to Kendis and to everybody at Truckers Against Trafficking. Thank you for making a difference. Thank you for bringing to light things that are in the dark. Thank you for standing up for people that have a tough time standing up for themselves. And thank you for fighting the fight out there. And we at Truckstop will continue to support you and partner with you to fight that same fight because that’s the right thing to do. That’s what trucking does. That what we as humans should do and people just to help each other. Laura, it has been such a pleasure having you on today. Thank you so much for your saying yes, back then your heart back then for you taking what could have slowed you down and you turning it into your ministry, where you’re helping your fellow people, fellow humans to be able to get through, get back to safety. And to enjoy their life. And what Truckers Against Trafficking is doing is incredible. And for anyone else out there at Freight Nation, if your company needs to get involved with this, Laura, what’s the number again? How do they get in touch with Truckers Against Trafficking?

Laura – 00:42:37:

The best way to get in touch with us, truckersagainsttrafficking.org or email us [email protected] and we’ll get you hooked up with everything you need.

Brent – 00:42:48:

It’s not hard to remember, truckersagainsttrafficking.org, not a .com, .org. Laura, thank you so much. You have our respect. You have our admiration. You have our support. Thank you so much for being on Freight Nation today. And I appreciate you telling the story. And Freight Nation, this is another great story that’s out there. And we hope that you enjoyed it today and hope you’ll become involved in helping to stomp out this problem in our nation and on our planet. Well, that’s it for Freight Nation today. As we like to say at Freight Nation, don’t forget to work hard, be kind, and stay humble. And keep listening, and we appreciate you. Thanks a lot, and keep on trucking.

Outro – 00:43:23:

On behalf of the Truckstop team, thanks for listening to this episode of Freight Nation. To find out more about the show, head to truckstop.com/podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure you hit subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. Until then, keep on trucking and exploring the open roads with Freight Nation: A Trucking Podcast.

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