Awareness campaign targets truckers as important piece to ending human trafficking

April 18, 2022

Ryan Witkowski


An initiative to raise awareness and prevent human trafficking is underway in Virginia. Running April 18 through April 20, Operation Safe Passage is scheduled to take place across the state.

A collaborative effort between the Virginia State Police, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the Virginia Trucking Association, the initiative aims to prevent human trafficking by bringing awareness to the topic and introducing ways to detect and deter it.

Drivers can expect to see Virginia State Police Motor Carrier Safety Troopers positioned at various truck stops, rest areas and service centers across the state. Troopers will be distributing educational materials regarding human trafficking as well as conducting routine inspections.

Dale Bennett, president and CEO of the Virginia Trucking Association, said that drivers can play an important part in raising awareness and detecting human trafficking.

“Truck drivers are uniquely positioned to recognize potential victims of this heinous crime and properly alert law enforcement when they witness suspicious activity,” Bennett said in a news release. “They are family men and women, whose own children could be targeted for trafficking, so they’re able to talk to their peers and spread the message about human trafficking awareness. The trucking industry has a duty to help solve this problem, and we are committed to saving lives and protecting the communities we serve.”
That sentiment was echoed by Col. Gary T. Settle, superintendent for the Virginia State Police, who said drivers can be an extension of the police when it comes to identifying suspicious behavior.

“With tens of thousands of commercial trucks and buses traveling through and across Virginia on any given day, this statewide initiative has extensive, life-saving potential. Commercial drivers can be our added eyes and ears when it comes to identifying the common indicators of human trafficking victims and perpetrators,” Settle said in the news release. “This campaign is about putting an end to a very serious crime that intentionally preys on vulnerable adult and juvenile populations.”

According to data from Homeland Security Investigations, the agency arrested 2,360 individuals nationwide in 2021 in connection with human trafficking. Among those cases, more than 720 trafficking victims were identified and offered critical assistance.

Bob Mosier, Virginia secretary of public safety and homeland security, said the awareness campaign is part of the ongoing efforts to end human trafficking in their state.

“Preventing human trafficking and providing support to its victims have been a priority of Gov. Youngkin and his administration since stepping into office in January,” Mosier said in a statement. “I am extremely pleased to see the Virginia State Police taking an aggressive and active stance towards addressing what has become a global pandemic. Virginia has no tolerance for the exploitation of any human being, and is committed to apprehending, prosecuting and bringing to justice anyone associated with this crime.”

The Polaris Project is a nonprofit resource and advocacy center working to combat human trafficking. According to their data, 179 reported cases of trafficking and 77 traffickers were identified in Virginia in 2019.

You can anonymously report suspected instances of human trafficking to federal law enforcement by calling 866-347-2423. Victims of human trafficking can receive help and information from the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or by texting “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733. LL