Antoine Sadler heard plenty of stories about truck stops before he started driving big rigs. Rumors, he was sure, of young men and women walking around the dark parking lots, knocking on doors and offering sex for a fee.
Sinister stuff, Sadler thought. It didn’t take long for him to see it firsthand.
“You see a lot of stuff while you’re out there on the road,” he said.
Colorado-based nonprofit Truckers Against Trafficking is pulling a trailer across the country, appearing in trucking trade shows, truck driving contests and truck stops to raise awareness of human trafficking. Last week, the trailer — and a small staff with the nonprofit — was in Louisville at the Mid-America Trucking Show. Anyone who stepped inside heard stories and see displays aimed at bringing awareness.
The message Truckers Against Trafficking tried to relay to the thousands of visitors to last weekend’s truck show was the same one that changed Sadler’s perception of the prostitution he witnessed for nearly two decades: that many people selling themselves are doing so against their own will.
“It’s heartwrenching,” Sadler said.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center received more than 4,100 calls about potential sex trafficking cases in 2015. That’s up from 3,600 in 2014 and about 3,300 calls in 2013, according to the resource center’s website.
The increase in calls may be due, in part, to truckers like Sadler, said Kendis Paris, the executive director of Truckers Against Trafficking.
She said the nonprofit group has trained more than 215,000 truckers to identify potential indicators of human trafficking. Some may call the resource center, others may call law enforcement, which is not included in the resource center’s report.
Paris said human trafficking, and particularly sex trafficking, is intertwined with the trucking industry. Empowering truckers to see the signs and equipping them with the resources to alert authorities can help reduce the number of victims.
“We recognize truckers are the eyes and ears of our nation’s highways, and that they are oftentimes in places pimps will bring their victims in to be sold,” she said. “Who better to equip and educate on this topic.”
In 2015, more than 250 calls concerning human trafficking in Kentucky were reported to the National Human Trafficking resource center, resulting in 63 cases being opened. That’s up from 55 cases in 2014 and 48 cases in 2013, according to the center.
More than 5,500 cases were reported across the nation in 2015, per the resource center.
Sadler said truckers can be the “first line of defense” against trafficking. He said they’re across the country and can help fight from the inside out.
For him, it’s even somewhat personal. These days, when he sees someone working a truck stop parking lot — selling themselves for sex — his instincts force him to react.
“People are being used by others,” he said. “You want to feel more protective.”