January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Human trafficking can present itself in many ways, including slavery, commercial sex and domestic labor. Human traffickers recruit, solicit, entice, transport or obtain another person, often under the age of eighteen years, with the intent to force, fraud or coerce the person into acts against their will.
A little known fact is that traffickers use public transportation to move victims to different locations as well as to bring new victims into their trafficking operations.
“Survivors of trafficking have reported being picked up by their traffickers at bus stops or transit centers and using buses and transit during their exploitation. They have also described transit as a lifeline, as many survivors have relied on public transportation during an exit attempt,” said Annie Sovcik, Director of Busing on the Lookout, a program of the nonprofit organization Truckers Against Trafficking that exists to educate, equip, empower, and mobilize members of the bus and transit industries to combat human trafficking.
Being attentive to the signs of those who may be vulnerable to human trafficking, and being aware of the red flags are the keys to helping combat this global and pervasive problem. It starts with education.
Training and Resources
“Recognizing that transit employees may be coming into contact with victims of human trafficking in the course of their everyday jobs, it’s essential that they are educated and equipped with the information and tools they need to report it effectively,” said Sovcik.
There are several resources for education, advocacy and outreach on local and national levels. Locally, the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General Human Trafficking Task Force uses a collaborative approach to combating all forms of human trafficking within the state. The Task Force is working to accomplish various goals including heightened visibility of public awareness through training programs, advocating for trafficking survivors in the courtroom, protection of survivors, and victim-centered rescue and restoration.
Nationally, the U.S. Department of Justice National Human Trafficking Resource Center serves victims and survivors of human trafficking and the anti-trafficking community in the United States. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also falls under their domain, which serves as the nation’s clearinghouse on issues related to missing and sexually exploited children.
Rio Metro’s SAFE Campaign
To shine a light on the problem in New Mexico, Rio Metro Regional Transit District implemented a “SAFE” Campaign. Rio Metro operates the New Mexico Rail Runner Express and buses in both Sandoval and Valencia counties. The most visible formats were used to increase awareness of human trafficking which included exterior bus ads; posters at bus shelters, train station platforms, and on the Rail Runner.
“The media often reports on stories of human trafficking in other states, and movies have been produced highlighting the problem in other countries, but it’s happening right here in New Mexico, so we felt it is important to utilize our public vehicles to help bring awareness to this horrendous crime”, says Allyne Clarke, Marketing Director for Rio Metro.
Rio Metro has partnered with the New Mexico Transit Association (NMTA) to engage its members help in spreading awareness throughout the state, providing digital resources such as print and social media graphics to use in their efforts.
“It makes sense for Rio Metro to be part of the awareness around this effort because of the link between human trafficking and transportation”, said Terry Doyle, Director of Rio Metro. “We support safe travel on our Rio Metro buses and Rail Runner trains, and strongly encourage anyone who notices any unusual behavior to report it.”