43 – Truckers Against Trafficking: An Interview With Kendis Paris

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The trucking industry is one place where caring people on the front lines can make a huge impact to end trafficking. Sandra Morgan, the Director of the Global Center for Women & Justice and Dave Stachowiak, one of the Center’s board members, welcome Kendis Paris, National Director of Truckers Against Trafficking. Kendis speaks about the important work her organization is doing to raise awareness about trafficking and why the trucking industry has an important role.

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Dave: Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast my name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues to be a voice and make a difference in ending human trafficking.  And Sandie I am so excited today that we have a guest with us who, I know we’re both going to learn a lot from, and our audience is going to learn a lot from.  Through a lens that I don’t think we’ve looked at much, we’ve talked about some of the things that we are going to talk about in the episode today a little bit but this is just a really neat thing that is going on that can help us all to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking.

Sandie: Well the Global Center for Women and Justice welcome you Kendis Paris to our Ending Human Trafficking podcast and why don’t we start off with how you got involved with fighting trafficking in the trucking industry.  So, tell us a little bit about how you started out doing this?  This doesn’t sound like the average soccer mom kind of job.

Kendis: (Laughs) No, No, really ironically it was my mother Lynn Thompson who came up with the initial idea for Truckers Against Trafficking.  Uh, my neighbor and I had put on a Human Trafficking Awareness Conference in Denver, Colorado; and she attended it and one of the workshop leaders was talking about training gas station employees along our nation’s highways. And she said that combined it with the statistic that the innocence lost, uh the innocence lost things that the FBI do between 2004 and 2009 because this is when she came up with the idea was in 2009. They were finding women and children being forced into prostitution in numerous places. But one of them was among our nation’s highways.  So, she combined that with the gas station idea and said we really should be targeting the trucking industry.  And that is really how TAT was born, and uh at the time our family had a ministry called “Chapter 61 Ministries”, uh was a very small mission which was to fight the exploitation of human beings worldwide, yes very small, very reachable.  Uh, but TAT became its primary initiative and that started in ’09 of March.  And uh became its own fiber one C3 just last September 2011.  And that’s, that’s really how the whole thing got going.

Sandie: So, let’s start with um, I saw the video, the training video that Truckers Against Trafficking produced, and the story in it; the real winner in the story is recognizing what one person can do to change another person’s life.  And I, I just I want to know more about Trucker Willie, can you tell us that story?

Kendis:  Absolutely.  Uh, so Sherri and her cousin Krissy, uh 15, 14-year-old kidnapped off the side of the road.  They were actually forced into prostitution and housed across town in Iowa, excuse me, Ohio.  And about a week into that their pimp recruits a trucker unfortunately, to transport them across state lines where they end up at a truck stop.  And Sherri is actually the one working the lot with an older woman.  And uh, and Krissy her cousin was actually in the car with her pimp.  And they uh go from truck to truck and they got to Trucker Willie, Trucker Willie’s cab.  And the older woman was much older; she was only in her twenties, early twenties.  And Willie realizes, hey they’re too young, they shouldn’t be, this shouldn’t be happening period. Makes the 911 call.  Uh, Law Enforcement arrives on the scene, and um proceeds to get Sherri away from the uh, older woman and that’s when she’s able to tell him, I’ve been kidnapped.  Earlier she’s saying, No I’m 18, cause she’s in the presence of the older woman.  And uh, she says I’ve been kidnapped, he runs the Amber Alert, and it leads to her rescue that night.  A week later, she’s able to lead her uncle and her mother back and that’s when Krissy is rescued, but this case opens up a 13-state prostitution ring and that’s the power that the trucking industry has.  That’s the resources, because they are the eyes and ears of our nation’s highways.  Most of us are not in a position where this crime is knocking on our door, but the trucking industry is.  Uh, for good or for bad, they are.  And it’s something, it’s taking the initiative like Willie did and making a phone call that really has the power to change lives, and that’s what TAT is all about.

Sandie: Now I, went through your website and um you have two different numbers for people to call. And is there a difference? When do I know when to call 888-3737-888 or 911?

Kendis: Well there, I think the 911 is a visceral response, and actually Willie did call 911 that night, that was in 2005 before TAT ever began. But it is such a perfect example, that we always use it, but what the reason why we want folks to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center as well as 911 is no one comes to the lot that night. Let’s say you call 911 that information is lost, if you were to report that information to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center even if no one comes to the lot that night that information is given to anti trafficking deputies that information is given to FBI, given to somebody who can follow up on that tip.  Say you get a license plate, say you get a description of the vehicle, or a description of the girl that information is given over and you have a trafficker or pimp who is working on a circuit, that information can prove extremely helpful for law enforcements for opening an investigation.  In fact, we had a Riverside County trafficking deputy tell all of us, if you do not call the NHTRC I never receive that information. If you only give it to 911? I never get it. And he’s the guy that actually the one investigating the cases.  So, this is why we pump these numbers so very much, plus the other thing is the Human Trafficking Resource Center is run by Polaris Project, the other thing they do is that they track this information. And they are able to determine hot spots they are able to know how many truckers are calling in, the trucking industry is part of the solution instead of part of the problem, and they just do a fantastic job really keeping this information and sending it to the right places.  So that’s why we really ask for this number, not just 911.

Sandie: Oh, that’s great. I really appreciate that explanation. The other thing in your story you talk about these big truck stops where it’s like a giant parking lot for trucks, and I know that the first time I went up to Ontario to speak at an awareness event there, the newspaper they put in front of my face had a little headline about lot lizards.  And that just made my skin crawl, why do they call these kids lot lizards?

Kendis: This is a very unfortunate term.  And uh this goes quite a way back, and I think that people for you know a long-time prostitution has been around for a long time, and it’s been at the truck stops for a long time and it is a little bit like turning the ship in water.  And helping folks to understand, look this is not, TAT is not saying every person that knocks on your door is a human trafficking victim, but what we are saying is that they are out there.  But it really is a different kind of thinking, when you think of the term, word “lot lizard” it’s dehumanizing.  You have turned this person into an object and really our goal implicitly, regardless of whose knocking on your door, we would love the first thought to be, not lot lizard, or oh I’m being woken up in the middle of my sleep at night, but instead, this is a potential victim of human trafficking. And can I make a call that can save a life here?  Um, and so it is a cultural shift, but I have to say that even though that is out there um it’s not the majority of the trucking industry, and when you have so many calls from all over the nation saying I’ve got daughters, I’ve got granddaughters how can I be a trucker against trafficking? So that’s the kind of response that we’re getting from the trucking industry.  So even though that term is out there and there are some who abide by that and it just gets irritated cause they get woken up at night so on and so forth.  Um you really do have a large population out there who don’t see things like that, and um you know who has never even um, heard of human trafficking so when they do find out about this, they become even more adamant about how they can help, what can they do. Um and that is something though that you know we are working to bring awareness to, education to, um, it is a little bit of a long haul on this one, but we feel like we can get there as we continue to help folks understand uh, just how loaded that term is, and really how many of these folks need help and not just a sticker on their door that says go away.  In fact, we created our own sticker, you can actually purchase a sticker of a cartoonish looking lizard with a kind of an “X” through it, so we create our own sticker for the driver side window that says, “Do you need help?”  And it’s got the TAT logo and it has the National Human Trafficking Resource Center number 888-3737-888

Sandie: So, can I order that online?

Kendis:  You can request those, uh, you could just send us an email and we’ll send you one and now truckers are starting to put those on their driver’s side windows.

Sandie: Oh, I love that!

Kendis: It would be great if every truck cab had one of those instead of the lot lizard number, that’s one of our goals, we’d love to see that happen.

Sandie: So, you’re talking about educating truck drivers and um, how do you do that? What are the resources?

Kendis: Well as you mention that training DVD is a huge part of it, it really is, it actually produced by me Emphasize, who is one of our major partners in our anti-trafficking organization, out of Boulder Colorado. Did a phenomenal job and it provide a comprehensive view of domestic sex trafficking and what the trucking industry can do about it. So, we would love to have their 9 million members of the trucking, we’d love every single one of them to watch that. Just so you get a full view of what it is and what you can do about it.  And we created the wall up cards, the wall up cards have signs to look for, questions to ask that you may be interacting with a trafficking victim.

Sandie: What are some of those? What are some of those questions?

Kendis: Some of the questions are um, because sometimes you know they actually do get into conversation, so are you being paid? Are you free to leave? Um, helping to try and get an understanding if they are aware of their surroundings. Because sometimes these girls are moved from city to city to city so quickly and they don’t really know where they are.  Um, but primarily we are asking if you see a minor working the lot, cause if they are under 18 by federal definition automatically human trafficking situation.  Um, or if you suspect pimp control, a car pulls onto the lot and 3-4 girls get out they start working the lot, if you see those things please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and report what you know.  And I have to stress that even if you, even if you have an inkling, it’s okay to be wrong.  It’s okay to make that phone call that’s what the folks at the hotline do, so you don’t have to be 100% right, go ahead and make that call, because you never know if your tip could actually lead to a rescue.

Sandie: Excellent, so that’s the awareness and education and I saw online that you’re doing that in the truck plazas.

Kendis: Hmm, yep and we actually take a three-prong approach.  We work through the trucking schools, um so before the drivers ever get their commercial driver’s license, we’d love to see the training implemented there, and we’ve approached those guys.  We work with the trucking companies; the safety directors determine the training and the orientation and so can hand out material, the videos, the wall up cards being made part of the regular training at the orientation for the existing drivers and then absolutely the truck stops right? Then have the employees be trained, with um, the TAT materials, because they’re on the ground as well.  And then these truck stop services can be points of distribution for the drivers as they come in.  Maybe they’ve never heard of TAT, but they see a poster and they read it, and take the time and now I’m going to go look into this. And what is this? I’m going to find out more about this, in fact we’ve gotten emails and phone calls because I saw this poster in a TA or a Flying J.  That’s fantastic, that’s what we want. And um, that’s one of the great, that’s some of the stuff that we’re encouraged about is the response from ample, our two biggest truck stop partners are TA, TA Petro, and Pilot, who own Flying J.  Between them they have 800 locations nationwide.  They are training their employees with our TAT training DVD and they are posting TAT materials in their locations.  So that’s going to reach a lot of people.

Sandie: So, you’ve taken it in through to the next level, so that you’re actually building coalitions between law enforcement and truckers.  How does that work? And give us an example of one place.

Kendis: Sure.  Yeah so, our goal is, our third goal is to partner with law enforcement to facilitate the investigation of Human Trafficking and obviously that starts with phone calls and in the calls getting law enforcement out there. But really the trucking community can provide key Intel because they are on the ground so one of the things we did, we had a meeting this past September where we brought together law enforcements, the actual anti-human trafficking deputies and a group of general managers of truck stops.  And got these guys in the same room, and gave them a really extensive training and it ended with law enforcements speaking with these general managers, and talking to them about what are they seeing? What are the challenges arising and what’s out there on the lots and how can they work together? And for us that is such a huge part of what we want to do so we can know who is going to be on your lot, you have a trust established, you have a rapport, you have this officer’s work cell right there in your phone.  Um, and not only that but let’s get these general managers, and we understand they have small businesses, and sometimes you have the competition, but this is a bipartisan issue so to speak, I mean this is where you put all of that aside, and okay if we can have an email chain and we’re looking for this car, and this license plate number, boom, we can get this information out to all these guys simultaneously.  And so that is something we would love to see grow more and more and more, uh, all across the United States.

Sandie: So, if somebody’s listening to this and they would want to participate and be a part of that program, how would that law enforcement officer or trucker find out if there is a collation in their area?

Kendis:  Well that’s the thing, if you’re in law enforcement and you’re interested in this? This whole thing is law enforcement led.  Uh, so if you are law enforcement we would ask you to contact us, email us at TAT.truckers@gmail.com And you can go to our website truckersagainsttrafficking.org, and our email address is on there as well. This is law enforcement led, this is not something that if I’m just a random person here, and I want to start a collation, this is law enforcement led and law enforcement contacts us and then we use our connections in the trucking industry to get everybody in the same room together.  So, if anyone out there in law enforcement personnel, particularly if you are the ones actually investigating cases on the truck stops, please contact us because we would love to put a collation together in your area.

Sandie: That’s outstanding! I love it, that its law enforcement led, and you guys are coming alongside to help connect people with that.  Now one of the things, and it’s probably something that they are addressing in these law enforcements led collations, but one of the things you mentioned earlier that struck me, you actually said that a pimp had used a trucker to transport a girl across state lines.  Um, what happened to that trucker?  Was he part…?

Kendis:  Well that trucker did actually uh, he was arrested, and he did serve time.  In fact, if you are part of, if you are convicted of transporting, you are a part of the criminal enterprise of human trafficking, your role in it is transportation.  That is a ten-year federal imprisonment for this sentence.  And unfortunately, there have been truckers who have participated in human trafficking most of the time it is transportation piece of it.  Um, but again this is the small percentage of the industry, just like you look at any industry, you always have some participating in the criminal aspect of it.  And yeah, absolutely he was arrested and if you are arrested for transportation, you’re going away for ten years.

Sandie: Wow. Wow, that’s outstanding.  Good information.  So, tell me what your hopes are for the future for Truckers Against Trafficking.

Kendis:  That’s a great question; we would love to see 100% of the trucking industry saturated with this message.  We’ve made strides, the American Trucking Association has recently become our formal partners, they are the umbrella organization for the trucking industry, we have many partners onboard Ryder, the sixth largest trucking company in the nation has recently come on board with us, which is fantastic.  But we still have a way to go we want to get every state trucking association on board with us.  And we really need to get this message out there, but can you imagine a trucking industry completely united behind this. Or at least let’s just give it a good old 80% behind it.  I cannot imagine what’s going to happen along our nation’s highways when they’re all aware, all rallied and all armed with that number.  And the other thing for us is any way we can assist law enforcements, any way the trucking industry can really, uh, use their Intel use their position to assist law enforcements, that’s also something we want to see and develop. And our model was actually used is to create what’s called PACT or the truck stop campaign up in Canada, and I know that in Brazil our model has been replicated and so are there other places in the world where this model can be taken and replicated and what role can be played in that.  And honestly, we are excited that the United States department of transportation is really taking a focus on this, they want to see Anti Trafficking work across all modes of transportation.  But we really feel because the truckers against trafficking exists that the trucking industry can really lead the way across all modes of transportation and fighting human trafficking.  It’s exciting we think the future looks really, really bright and you know for us it comes back to those truckers, calls, and emails we get from one trucker after another says yes, I know about this now, I want to do something, how can I be a trucker against trafficking? And that’s really what’s exciting to us, so the more of those we get, the more excited, the more motivated we are to keep doing what we’re doing.  Because the stories are coming in too, and uh this is how kids’ lives are getting saved.

Dave: Kendis this is such an exciting initiative that you are doing. It’s so exciting for me, Sandie, to listen to her speak about this, because it’s so much in align to what we talk about at the center, which is studying the issues, being a voice, and making a difference.  And you’re doing that, Kendis with this industry with helping educate people who do really care and want to make a difference in giving them a path on how they can do that.  So I’m so excited for this, and I’m also wondering for those of us who are not in law enforcement and maybe don’t have a direct connection to the trucking industry, what can we do, you know as just kind of the average person on the street that can help you and your efforts to raise awareness for what you are doing?

Kendis: That’s a great question; well I think the first thing is really becoming educated about the issue.  Which is what your show is promoting, which is fantastic.  And then educating your person of influence, you would be amazed at how many non-trucking conferences that I speak at or groups, how many people have come up afterwards, I do have an uncle in trucking, or I do have a friend in trucking, I guarantee there’s somebody listening to this show today who has some kind of trucking connection.  So even to start with your sphere of influence and seeing if they have any trucking connection that they can give this information to.  And you can certainly contact us, and we can get trucking materials and so on and so forth.  Um, but I think the other thing you can do, and it may sound silly but something that does help us is even liking us on Facebook, being aware of this issue.  And you know everyone takes road trips, so that’s something else, as you’re traveling and of course it’s not just, it doesn’t just happen at truck stops, it’s happening online, it’s happening in our neighborhoods.  Um, Sherri and Krissy were actually targeted from inside their school.  The pimps had recruited kids to report back to him the rougher kids that wouldn’t be missed.  These pimps are recruiting out of our schools, they’re recruiting them out of our malls, and they’re online.  So, being aware of all of the places that’s happening and then saying what are my skill sets, what are my resources and how can I plug in? Um, and make a difference right where I’m at.  And I have to say there are plenty of other modes that don’t have an NGO like TAT exists for the trucking industry. Taxis don’t necessarily have anything.  Perhaps there’s someone out there today who could be inspired by this.  And who knows what you may be called to, to actually be called to start up one of those recruitments.  So, um there’s a variety of things folks can do, but I think really being educated about this issue and then starting to spread the word right into your sphere of influence are the way to go.  And that actually does help an organization like us, because I tell ya, we have gotten into a lot of companies, from random people who heard either on a radio show, or read a story in the newspaper, or whatever like that and so, and so, and so’s uncle in trucking.  Haha, so it really does make a difference.

Sandie: Wow.

Dave: I’m just looking at your Facebook right now, just kind of while you were speaking, and either you or someone from your organization is doing a fantastic job on Facebook of interacting with people, building a community dialog, there’s over 8 thousand people who are members of this site, it’s just fantastic.

Sandie: We’re going to like you!

Dave: Oh, I already did! I already did!

Kendis: Kylie Needburg is our social media coordinator, and she does do a fantastic job at this.  And she really, you know kind of, that’s kind of a pulse on what’s going on out there.  And she also runs our Twitter account and um, that is playing a role and in addressing the kind of mentality, the connections to prostitution and all of that kind of stuff and really challenging some things that people may be not have thought of before in trying to make some of those connections.  And so, it does, it plays an intricate role for us.

Dave: Well it sounds great.

Sandie: When I met you through Brad Riley, who is the founder of I Emphasize that produced your training DVD, and I remember the last time when we were talking about the truckers against trafficking, he told me, he said Sandie, you need to meet Kendis! You two are going to hit it off! So, I just want you to know how much I appreciate you coming onto the Ending Human Trafficking Show today.  But we are going to have to do this again and again and again.  I mean we obviously have a lot of similar interests.

Kendis: I think that’s great, thank you so much for having me.  And what you guys are doing, it really is making a difference.

Sandie: I have one final question, for students in the university setting, they want to be activists, they want to find a way to use their voice now while they are in studies, have you connected universities? Have you found ways for students to get involved, maybe through the social media, I don’t know?

Kendis: Social media definitely one of the ways they can, and we actually had the university take their marketing class and tried to develop some different marketing campaign material for us.  That’s helpful for us, some other ideas were great.  You know there are some other specific internships that we are looking for, so that’s definitely something that we would target the universities.  But also again you would be amazed, just by getting this word out on your campus and seeing where the trucking connection may be or training us, more and more people are training up to pursue this kind of social justice of social entrepreneur, change maker mentality, rather than just someone in the business world.  And I think the more kids that can be inspired to follow and prepare themselves for this kind of career path the better.  Like I said, who knows if one of them might be listening today and they’re going to be the ones who start an NGO working with a different mode of transportation or different kind of idea.  Um, and so you know I think, all of those approaches and paths you know indirectly and directly will benefit Truckers Against Trafficking.

Sandie: Oh, that’s great.  I have time for one last question, and I was reading through some of the quotes of Kendis Paris online.  And one of the things that you said is that you focus on kids under the age of 18, because by law they are victims of human trafficking.  But then you said I honestly don’t think that anybody wakes up and says I want to sell my body.  The kids really have no choice, but many have been coerced to this, when they’re over the age of 18 what kind of resources have you been able to put into play that help women who are trapped even though they are no longer minors.

Kendis: Well that’s a second part of the equation.  You know we do stay adamant that the minor makes the call, but we always talk about the pimp control.  Because it’s so true, just because you turn 18, the pimp does not magically shake your hand and say okay, well congratulations you’ve graduated from slavery and go on your way.  Just because I’m 18, 19 and 20 I may still be out there, even into my 30’s may have control over me.  Um and that is why we really address both sides, Sherri the girl, the woman she was with was the quote, unquote the top prostitute of the pimp, she was still being trafficked even though she was over 18.  Now she was also charged because she participated in the trafficking of Sherri and Chrissy, but she’s a victim herself.  And I think that so often that demographic completely gets looked over because oh they’re over 18 they should know better, somehow, they should get out, but that is why we say a minor can be under pimp control.  And that person can be over 18, but completely still enslaved against their will.  So I think that is something that, you know wherever you go, speak whenever we talk about this, we include that portion, because absolutely this is not just, we’re not just talking about minors here and Polaris Project that number, that 888-3737-888 number is not just a call, a number you can call to report trafficking, but that also acts as a victim services.  And that’s not just for minors that are also for women.  And in fact, it’s actually easier to, there’s more beds for women than there are for minors.  So, it’s actually tougher because you have the youth element and the different laws involved.  And housing a minor overnight, so there’s actually victim services for minors and women caught up in trafficking situations.

Dave: Well Kendis I am so grateful that you took time to come join us today and educate us on what you’re doing what a fantastic way to really both prevent and educate and really address this issue through the work you’re doing.  So, I’m so thankful and I hope that our entire audience will take a moment to consider, where you may play a role in this as well too. Who you may know that’s connected to this industry, who you may know in law enforcement that would have a passion for getting involved in this, and to have them reach out to Kendis?  And Kendis if you can remind us one more time of where the best places for folks to connect with you.

Kendis:  You bet! Um, our website, truckersagainsttrafficking.org has all of our contact information and you can send an email to TAT.truckers@gmail.com

Sandie: All right, thank you so much Kendis! You’ll be hearing from us again.

Kendis: Sounds good! Thank you, guys!

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