Fighting human trafficking, one trucker at a time

Lynette Cervantes, lead instructor for Del Mar College’s transportation training services program, shows the Truckers Against Trafficking wallet card that is given to each student in the program. (Photo: Del Mar College)

Lynette Cervantes recounts the time a scantily clad young girl knocked on the door of her truck cab at an Albany, N.Y., truck stop. The temperature outside was 20 degrees.

“The girl asked if I wanted company,” said Cervantes, lead instructor of the transportation training services program at Del Mar College in Texas. “I told her, ‘No, but if you’d like to warm up for a while, you’re more than welcome.’ She responded that if I didn’t want a date, she had to move on.

“As soon as I rolled up the window, I called law enforcement,” Cervantes continued. “They surrounded the truck stop within minutes.

“I don’t consider myself a hero. I would hope that anyone would have made that call. These people are somebody’s family members.”

Del Mar College has educated transportation training students on human trafficking since 2009 using the Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) initiative. TAT is a non-profit organization dedicated to equipping and empowering those in the trucking industry to fight human trafficking in the course of their everyday jobs.

“We are proud to have this training in our curriculum so that thousands of students who have graduated or will be graduating can help prevent this terrible crime,” said John Rojas, program director at Del Mar.

Teaching tool

One of the TAT teaching tools is a video demonstrating how truckers can identify human trafficking activity. The video uses the firsthand experience of Shari, a young girl who, along with her cousin Chrissy, were kidnapped from a Wendy’s restaurant and forced into prostitution at truck stops.

Shari, Chrissy and seven other minors were rescued as a result of one phone call from a truck driver. That call is also credited with shutting down a 13-state human trafficking ring.

More than 400,000 professional drivers are currently TAT certified, according to the organization’s website. Del Mar’s transportation training services provides wallet cards and window stickers with information about the TAT initiative.

“Thanks to Del Mar College for providing training on identifying and reporting human trafficking,” said Texas State Rep. Todd Hunter, a longtime advocate for expanded anti-human trafficking legislation. “Human trafficking is an important issue that needs to be prevented everywhere. The more we know, the better we will be able to help.”

Officials estimate more than 20 million people are trapped in the human trafficking epidemic worldwide. TAT has responded to more than 1,800 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, identifying 525 human trafficking cases involving 972 victims, 315 of which were minors.

Ahead of the curve

Del Mar is ahead of the curve on human trafficking education. A new Texas law went into effect September 1 requiring training for truck drivers and other commercial vehicle operators to recognize signs of human trafficking. Under the law, applicants for a commercial driver’s license receive information regarding how to identify signs of human trafficking and how to report it.

Cervantes said a fellow trucker didn’t make a call when he suspected human trafficking was taking place at a truck stop he was using, and he later regretted that decision.

“We can all make a difference,” Cervantes said. “Truck drivers are the eyes and ears of the industry. Unfortunately, traffickers use truck stops to pedal these children.

“Make the call, save lives,” she added, echoing the TAT motto.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.

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