The Combating Human Trafficking In Commercial Vehicles Act: An Overview

June 10, 2021

By Charlotte Spencer

The Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act (hereafter, the Act) is a relatively new law designed to help do exactly what its title suggests. The Act — S. 1536 — passed the House and Senate in 2017, and was signed by then-president Donald Trump and made law in 2018. It passed with unanimous approval in the Senate. In the House it was one vote short of unanimous approval, with only Rep. Matt Gaetz voting against it. The main purpose of the act is to designate a human trafficking prevention coordinator and to expand the scope of activities authorized under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) outreach and education program to include human trafficking recognition, prevention and reporting activities.

We will break down the Act in plain language further on in this piece. But before that, here’s a quick look at its background.

First, how is human trafficking defined, from a legal standpoint? The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines it as:

  • sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

Why was the Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act necessary to begin with? Commercially operated truck stops and state-operated rest areas through out the United States are known grounds for human trafficking activities, particularly sex trafficking, but also for other forms like labor trafficking.

What makes these stops unwittingly favorable for traffickers? These locations are usually isolated from communities, which means traffickers can operate from such places without much concern over being discovered. Typically, traffickers tend to move their victims around often to maintain control and authority over their victims, and to avoid being detected by law enforcement.

“Truckers, who also travel from location to location and state to state, can provide observed intelligence to include word of mouth and overheard chatter in public locations to the attention of law enforcement, who can conduct appropriate follow-up investigations. Our collaboration with Truckers Against Trafficking has become another key weapon to assist law enforcement in combating human trafficking,” according to Gerald Green, SRTC Criminal Justice instructor and a former agent with the FBI, per a TTNews report.

Southern Regional Technical College in Georgia, for instance, uses Truckers Against Trafficking’s (TAT) free educational materials to train students in a classroom setting to identify and respond to potential human trafficking activities. The TAT organization originally set out to teach truck drivers about trafficking, but it has now expanded its reach to train bus drivers, taxi drivers, shipping corps and even casino security, TTNews said in the report.

“Nonprofit organizations like Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) have made substantial progress in spreading awareness of areas where human trafficking and the trucking industry intersect. Their efforts have resulted in increased reporting of trafficking incidents by truckers who can act as ‘eyes and ears’ on roads nationwide,” the Senate Report 115-177 from Oct. 23 2017 says. The Act basically builds on and provides additional tools to educate truckers and enlist their cooperation in preventing these crimes, while providing greater coordination between modal administrations of the Department of Transportation (DOT) to centralize efforts in combating human trafficking.

Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, and the number of victims in the country is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. TAT, which began in 2009, says on its website that over 1.2 million people are registered as TAT trained; 2,782 calls were made to the national hotline by truckers; 715 likely cases generated and, 1,303 victims identified. The organization’s mission is to educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking, bus and energy industries to combat human trafficking, it says.

Our Plain Language Break-Down of The Act

  1. It required the Secretary of Transportation to designate an official within the DOT to deal with this issue. That official is known as the Human Trafficking Prevention Coordinator.
  2. It required the Human Trafficking Prevention Coordinator to coordinate human trafficking prevention efforts between departments and agencies in the federal government. 
  3. It also required the Coordinator to take into account the challenges of combatting human trafficking in different types of transportation.
  4. It amended existing federal law [49 U.S.C. 31110(c)(1) and 49 U.S.C. 31313(a)(3)] to address funding these efforts to combat human trafficking.
  5. It required the Secretary of Transportation to establish an advisory committee on human trafficking.
  6. It specified that members of the advisory committee should be external stakeholders, from trafficking victim advocacy organizations, law enforcement and members of the transportation industry including trucking, bus, rail, aviation, maritime and port sectors, including industry and labor.
  7. It required that this committee make recommendations to the Secretary on actions the Department could take to help combat human trafficking.
  8. It required that these recommendations include successful strategies for identifying and reporting instances of human trafficking. It also required these recommendations to include administrative or legislative changes that should be made to be able to use DOT resources to combat human trafficking.
  9. It also required this committee to develop recommended best practices for states and state and local transportation stakeholders to follow in combating human trafficking. These are required to be based on multidisciplinary research and promising, evidence-based models and programs. They must also be up to date on technology and include sample training materials, strategies to identify victims, sample protocols, strategies to collect and share data across agencies, strategies to help agencies better understand the problem and strategies to identify effective pathways for state agencies to utilize their position in educating critical stakeholder groups and  assisting victims.
  10. It also required the Secretary of Transportation to make sure that appropriate state-level officials were aware of these best practices recommendations.
  11. It required the Secretary of Transportation to make a report to the Senate and the House on the actions of the committee.
  12. It also required that this report be made publicly available, both physically and online.

Other DOT-related Initiatives To Combat Human Trafficking

This Act aside, DOT is also a member of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking (PITF), a cabinet-level entity chaired by the Secretary of State and created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to coordinate federal human trafficking efforts. The DOT also created the Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking (TLAHT) partnership to maximize the transportation industry’s collective impact in combating human trafficking. The partnership focuses on five key areas and connects transportation stakeholders to available resources on industry leadership, industry training and education, policy development, public awareness and information sharing and analysis, the DOT says.

The DOT’s 55,000 employees are required to take an anti-human trafficking training every three years and were trained in 2012 and 2016, according to its website. It also collaborates with the Department of Homeland Security and non-governmental organizations to offer its stakeholders a suite of training tools tailored for the transportation industry. Under this initiative, Amtrak trained all 20,000 employees, Greyhound trained its drivers and 18 airline partners trained over 100,000 aviation personnel under the branded Blue Lightning Initiative (BLI) training for aviation personnel. 

To date, more than 100,000 personnel in the aviation industry have been trained through BLI. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Organization (ATO) plays a key role in BLI when aviation personnel report a human trafficking tip through the domestic events network or DEN, an interagency teleconferencing system that operates 24/7. The DEN permits FAA’s partners — flight crews, customer service representatives for the airlines, and state and local law enforcement agencies and law enforcement — to communicate human trafficking concerns and coordinate appropriate responses. DEN air traffic security coordinators are specially trained to assist flight crews and other aviation industry professionals in responding to suspected human trafficking events. 

When it comes to roadways, the FMSCA’s steps and outreach programs help. The No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act permanently prohibits anyone who has used a commercial vehicle to commit a felony involving human trafficking from operating a commercial motor vehicle in the future. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) supports the DOT’s TLAHT initiative through transit-focused industry engagement, education, public awareness and outreach, and research and technical assistance to combat human trafficking in transit. 

Human trafficking hotlines in the U.S. and Canada
Image Source: TAT

The information provided in this article should not be considered legal advice or a substitute for legal advice. Biometrica is not a law firm and cannot offer legal advice.