SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – The first time Kathleen Eberle watched the training video from Truckers Against Trafficking, she knew she had to do something to help stop human trafficking.
Eberle, the president of NPO Transportation in Southfield, was shaken by what she saw on the video while at a convention.
"You can't listen to this stuff in front of you without saying 'We've got to do something about this.' Simple as that," Eberle said.
She made it mandatory for all her drivers to be trained to spot suspicious behavior and make the call to report it.
"I feel strongly that we are the eyes and the legs and the rubber on the road. If they see something, there are guys out there, they can see when something doesn't look quite right and they have no problem putting themselves out there if you give them the opportunity and the tool to do so," Eberle said.
The training comes from Truckers Against Trafficking, a grassroots organization that educates and empowers truck drivers, their companies and the travel plaza industry to be crime fighters against domestic sex trafficking.
"They are sometimes in the places that pimps will target and exploit in order to sell their victims," said Laura Cyrus, the operations director for Truckers Against Trafficking.
"Truckers may interact with victims of human trafficking at a number of locations, truck stops, travel plazas, rest areas, hotels, motels, city streets, terminals, anywhere, truly, that a trucker may be a trafficker may try to exploit."
Billy Myers, a driver and supervisor for NPO Transportation, knows what to look for to report a problem.
"If the person is young, if they look scared, if they look abused, always looking over their shoulder that tells you that somebody's watching them and something's not right," Myers said. "If you're at a rest area and you see this young lady, female, male come up to you and asking you for a date, you should know something's not right. You know, pick up the phone. I tell my fellow drivers, pick up the phone and call the police. It's always better safe than sorry because you don't know if you're helping a person or if you're not helping a person, but you'll never know unless you do it."
Drivers get trained to recognize signs of trafficking. Then, all they have to do if they see something suspicious is call the National Human Trafficking Hotline to report it. The number is 1-888-3737-888.
Truckers can put stickers on their vehicles with the phone number as well.
For her company, Eberle had drivers program the national hotline into their phones.
"Anytime they believe they see a minor engaged in commercial sex or anytime they believe they see evidence of pimp control regardless of the age or gender of a victim. So you might have a pimp involved in a bartering process or you might a pimp that drops off victims at a location, multiple women or girls get out of a car, anytime there's that kind of indication, we want the driver to think, 'OK, this is a red flag. I need to be paying attention to what's going on, and if I truly believe this looks like human trafficking to call the national hotline number,'" Cyrus said.
"We are the eyes and ears of the highways. we hear stuff, we see stuff before anybody else does," Myers said.
Truckers Against Trafficking started in 2009 and since then calls from truckers to the National Human Trafficking Hotline have led to 525 likely human trafficking cases being identified. The cases involved 972 victims, 315 of which minors.
"We're talking about our children, boys, young girls ages 9 to 15 is the sweet spot, so to speak. We can't let it continue. We're all members of this world and we need to do something about it to make it a better place," Eberle said.
For more information about Truckers Against Trafficking, click here.