MERIDIAN — At first, it’s a simple message through Facebook. Then, a young girl gets on a bus to see a pimp who is posing as her long distance boyfriend, and her family never sees her again.
That is how Louie Greek, the training specialist for Truckers Against Trafficking, described how human trafficking can occur. The nonprofit organization holds regular training programs "on the realities of sex trafficking and how the trucking industry can combat it," according to its website.
The local conference was held at the Idaho Trucking Association on Thursday in Meridian, where right outside, a giant navy-blue trucking trailer was parked. Inside, there was a small walk-through museum with information and items of trafficking survivors’ belongings on the walls.
The display included items such as a pill bottle, torn clothing, mirrors, and even dog tags, which are sometimes used to claim “ownership” of another person.
Greek explained that it’s easy to get caught up in the depiction of human trafficking in films, versus what the reality is. Typically, he said, a pimp will use some type of harm or embarrassment to the victims' family to threaten them.
“It’s not someone being tied up, like you see in TV shows and movies,” he said. “It’s psychological manipulation and blackmail.”
Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said drug use is another way that people can be coerced into human trafficking. Traffickers sometimes offer drugs to those in poor situations as a means of escape, which can make the victims vulnerable to manipulation through drug dependency.
Donahue said in one instance while he was undercover, a car chase ensued with a man that ended in a crash. The passenger was taken to the hospital, where Donahue found out she was possibly being trafficked. This led to years of “back work” he said, until the woman was free.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little spoke at the conference about how he believes illegal immigration and, in turn, illegal drugs coming through the borders of Idaho contributes to the issue.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said.
Greek said that what Truckers Against Trafficking is trying to accomplish with this information and training sessions is to train truck drivers to assist law enforcement by identifying what they see as potential human trafficking offenses. Donahue said truckers can be the eyes and ears for law enforcement officials.
“They are so critical in this fight,” Greek said.
Truckers Against Trafficking was created in 2009 as a way to teach truck drivers across the nation about human trafficking and how to spot it. Truckers can even become certified as a TAT driver by taking courses and demonstrating their knowledge of the issue. The organization holds industry training, law enforcement training and other courses to increase awareness and education to the dangers and signs of human trafficking. Across the United States and Canada, TAT has trained over 1.2 million drivers.
As of now, this is Truckers Against Trafficking’s first coalition in Idaho. Locally, it has trained over 400 drivers and expects to reach more.