Imagine a young person, waiting for a bus that will take her to where she will be meeting with her aunt and uncle. She has been having trouble at home, so she chose to stay with them for a while until she figures things out.
While she waits, a newer looking car pulls up. Inside is a young woman and a man who look well-kept, but not too dressed up. The young lady says to her, “Hey do you want to party?”
A conversation begins.
These people seem nice; she tells them that she has three bus connects before she will be able to arrive at her destination. The man suggests she ride with them and they will take her to the final bus when the time comes. He even offers to feed her dinner. This all sounds much better than waiting hours for each bus connection and she agrees to join the duo.
When she wakes up from a nap, it is nearly time for her final bus. She leaves with the man and as she rides with him, he drives right past the bus stop. When she brings it up, the man makes promises of a leisurely life and speaks of how no one in her family cares for her anyway. He offers the suggestion that she should just stay with him and his family, but of course she would have to work.
‘Busing on the Lookout’
This example above is a real life example from a human trafficking survivor, Annika Mack, who speaks of her experience in a training titled, ‘Busing on the Lookout,’ which is now used to train school bus drivers across Iowa to spot signs of human trafficking.
Mack’s story shows one of many ways that human traffickers recruit and trap their victims and force them into a form of modern slavery. A reality that thousands of people from across the world have come to know as ‘the life’.
“When most people think of human trafficking, they think of someone being snatched out from under a hotel bed,” said Iowa Vehicle Enforcement Chief David Lorenzen. “When in reality, though those situations do happen, it is usually a kid still going to school and being trafficked afterwards.”
Human trafficking is the second largest criminal activity in the world. According to the global slavery index, 403,000 individuals were trafficked in the United States during 2016 alone. Most reported cases of trafficking during this time period involved sex trafficking, 65.8% of which involved are minors.
Taking these numbers into consideration and the methods traffickers use to maintain control over their victims – such as force, fraud and coercion – the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa Vehicle Enforcement felt it prudent to act.
A line of defense
With half of American school children riding a bus daily, school bus drivers have many points where they interact with and talk to potential victims.
According to the ‘Busing on the Lookout’ website, human traffickers often use bus stops as recruiting areas when they are looking for vulnerable people, primarily minors and young adults to exploit. Because of this, Truckers Against Trafficking partnered with the Iowa Vehicle Enforcement to create the Busing on the Lookout program.
The idea to train Iowa school bus drivers was developed by Head of School Transportation Services at the Iowa Department of Education Max Christensen, after seeing a presentation by David Lorenzen.
Lorenzen’s presentation showed how extensive human trafficking has become and how it affects the communities of Iowa such as Des Moines, where two major interstates intersect in the city, making it an ideal hub for trafficking.
The program focuses on training drivers to understand the way human trafficking works, to understand the methods by which traffickers operate and interpret signals that may indicate a human trafficking situation.
Signs of human trafficking can include:
• unexpected or frequent absences
• signs of neglect, bruises or physical trauma
• signs of drug addiction
• changes in attire or possessions
• fearful demeanor, or major changes in behavior
The Busing on the Lookout training has been added to the three-hour training that Iowa Bus Drivers attend annually. After the training each driver is given a wallet card with the list of human trafficking signs and the number of the national human trafficking hotline, 1-888-3737-888.
As of June 2019, every licensed bus driver in the State of Iowa was trained on this subject.
“This training helped to make us aware that human trafficking is out there ... to be alert of changes in the kids and possibly help if we discover a situation,” said Creston Community Schools Transportation Director Bob Beatty.
Director of Iowa People Transportation Chris Darling said most people have not been aware that human trafficking is such a significant problem, but with the advent of social media and these trainings, it has been brought more into the public eye and increased awareness.
“We had the truckers trained, and now we have the bus drivers trained,” said Chris Darling, “Now it is, ‘How do we communicate it to the general public?’”
Traffickers do not only prey on individuals who are travelling, they also utilize various internet sites such as Facebook, Snap Chat and Craig’s List. Many times, traffickers will pose as a young person and attempt to arrange a meeting. When the initial recruitment occurs online, traffickers may use busses to transport potential victims to them, often under the guise of work opportunities or romantic interests.
David Lorenzen encourages parents to be aware of who their children are talking to, whether it be in face to face conversations or on the internet. Lorenzen also encourages parents to take control of their children’s phones and internet connected devices ensuring they are aware of who their children are in contact with.
Individuals interested in learning more about human trafficking prevention, visit truckersagainsttrafficking.org.