ELKO — Joining police and prosecutors, a new group of Nevadans is stepping up the fight against sex trafficking: truckers.
The Nevada Trucking Association is asking its members to be the “eyes and ears of the road” in hopes of saving someone from captivity.
Truck drivers travel main freeways that connect commerce from city to city. Those same roads are traveled by criminals in illegal trades: trafficking drugs, weapons or humans held against their will.
Truck drivers are also propositioned directly; truck stops are known to be frequented by prostitutes, said Paul Enos, Nevada Trucking Association chief executive officer.
“A lot of our drivers thought that those people who were knocking on the door to their cabs were in a voluntary situation,” Enos said. “What came to our attention is that a lot of those people who are working the truck stops or working big events, they’re being forced into sex trafficking.
“Because our drivers are in their cabs, on the highways, out in the truck stops, they have the ability to see a lot of these things, so we felt it was incumbent on us to educate our members so they could educate their drivers on the signs of what to look for if they think somebody is being held against their will and being sex trafficked,” he said.
The Nevada Trucking Association is asking members to show a video during safety training or orientation that outlines the problem of sex trafficking and how they can help stop it.
Enos said the campaign might also give a truck driver pause before he decides to have sex with a prostitute.
In a forum hosted by local business Western States Propane, General Attorney Catherine Cortez Masto commended the association for its “Truckers Against Trafficking” campaign.
Masto, who stopped in Elko to participate in the forum and later spoke at the Soroptimist lunch on the topic of sex trafficking, sponsored a bill that passed the 2013 legislative session aimed at combating human trafficking.
The bill establishes sex trafficking as a criminal offense, makes victims eligible for assistance and allows victims to sue their traffickers.
Pandering — commonly referred to as pimping — is already illegal, as is prostitution outside of licensed brothels. Sex trafficking is more organized, Masto said, with force as an element of the crime.
“Our first step is the training that’s necessary,” she said. Her office is organizing a law enforcement and prosecution training.
Deputy District Attorney Tyler Ingram said young victims are unlike victims or witnesses in other cases. He said expert training would be beneficial in the event that a sex trafficking case makes it to a jury trial.
Training will also help law officers identify victims of a crime often “hidden in plain sight,” according to the attorney general’s office.
Signs that someone is a victim of sex trafficking include seemingly scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction, lack of official identification, living at place of employment, or being forced to be quiet or kept separate from other people.
“I didn’t know that we had a problem with those issues,” Julie Kraus said after the forum. “I think it’s great that the attorney general is taking the time to educate the public so we can help stop it.”
Kraus owns Western States Propane with her husband Mike.
Police Chief Don Zumwalt said although the City of Elko doesn’t have a truck stop where prostitutes approach truckers, that doesn’t mean illegal prostitution isn’t an issue.
“We’ve talked a lot about human trafficking in our legal prostitution area,” he said.
In the past, he said, city councilmen expressed concern after a brothel worker came before the council. Because she didn’t speak English, the prostitute could not communicate her age or whether she was willfully employed as a prostitute.
A national human trafficking resource center hotline can be called toll-free to report suspected trafficking at 1-888-373-7888.
More information can be found on the attorney general’s website at ag.nv.gov.