Transportation officials have a role in human trafficking battle

Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery that exists in every corner of the world — even along our own highways in Maryland. Every day, thousands of people are forced by fear, fraud or coercion to work in commercial sex and labor markets with little hope of escape. According to the Polaris Project, a non-profit that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were more than 7,500 human trafficking cases reported in the United States in 2016, including 602 in Maryland, making it the eighth highest state for trafficking in the nation. The majority of these were for sex trafficking. Countless more cases go unreported.

By its very nature, human trafficking involves transportation and transit. With two major metropolitan areas, three major airports in the vicinity, popular truck stops, numerous interstate highways and diverse commuter networks, Maryland is a prime example of transportation infrastructure's impact on trafficking. Human trafficking victims are hidden in plain sight along our state's transportation routes; they could be the person riding next to you on the train or bus, in the café at a rest stop, waiting at the Metro or in the security line at BWI. This means that every day commuters and especially transportation industry actors — such as highway patrol, port authorities, toll booth operators, bus and train operators, truckers and others — are on the front lines of the defense.

Despite their critical role, these individuals as well as transportation policymakers, have been largely overlooked in Maryland's efforts to stop sex trafficking. As part of a systematic review of the policy and enforcement efforts ongoing in the state, we found that overlapping and uncoordinated law enforcement jurisdictions, lack of training, information sharing and a simple lack of awareness of the links between transportation and trafficking leave a significant gap and open up a new opportunity to make progress in the fight to eradicate sex trafficking in Maryland. We highlight a few key steps to start.

First, all law enforcement, including transportation-specific agencies like the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority Police, Maryland Transportation Authority Police and Amtrak Police, need to be trained to identify and appropriately assist human trafficking victims. The Maryland State Senate recently passed Senate Bill 220, which requires the state to incorporate human trafficking training into police academies. While this is a good start, the legislation only applies to state, county and municipal law enforcement entities, leaving out transportation authority police who are likely to encounter victims along their transit routes. The state Senate should amend the bill in its next session, and in the meantime the Maryland State Police should reach out to transportation authorities to include them in ongoing training conferences and coordination.

Second, Maryland should require sex trafficking awareness training as part of the requirements to obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL). Several other states have passed similar CDL requirements with positive results. If truckers know the signs of sex trafficking, they can alert authorities when they spot potential victims while parked at truck stops and gas stations, which are major trafficking hubs.

Finally, Maryland should increase inter-state cooperation on this issue. A coalition already exists for states along the I-95 corridor to address coordination on transportation and public safety, and it includes a number of other state agencies. The I-95 Corridor Coalition could add sex trafficking to their coordination agenda and utilize their networks to combat it up and down the East Coast.

If we are going to eliminate the pernicious tragedy of sex trafficking from the United States and Maryland, we need to tackle the issue from all angles — including transportation. We call on policymakers across state government, law enforcement, social services and the transportation industry to come together and make this a shared priority.

Lindsay Powell, Krystal Rodriguez, Kate Seif and Max Tassano also contributed to this article; they and the authors are recent master's degree graduates of the H. John Heinz III College of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University, on the Washington, D.C., campus. For more information on this research and to read the full report, please contact Marie Coleman at mcoleman@andrew.cmu.edu.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
37°