The Problem With Using a Lot Lizard - How To End Human Traffickingby Jake Tully - Published: 3/13/2017
Within the country, the issue of education regarding human trafficking – specifically sex trafficking - has become as prevalent as ever. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that in 2016 there were 7,572 cases of Human Trafficking and 26, 727 calls regarding potential and verified cases of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry in the world, generating approximately $32 billion per year. The average age a young person enters the trade is 12 – 14, meaning that many victims have been in the trade for half of their lives or longer.
Within the trucking industry in particular, the problem of ignorance about the topic has persisted, though perhaps less frequently today than it has in the past.And because truck stops are one of numerous locations traffickers are known to exploit,many look to drivers - as they are often visiting areas with a high density of individuals - in the event that a human trafficking violation is happening. As drivers are often eyes and ears of the nation, they are invaluable individuals in the process of dispensing of the act of trafficking.
Today, the trend has significantly decreased within the community, but awareness regarding the issue is still a subject that many grapple with.
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Some drivers may know the men and women by more casual and seemingly humorous terms such as “lot lizards,” or “sleeper leaper” - those that appear to be soliciting sex on their own terms.
However, while some of these individuals may be making the decision to live this lifestyle themselves, the truth of the matter is that many people are forced into the trade. It may be simple to joke and laugh about the individuals who are posted up at truck stops and areas where a high volume of drivers are present, but both sides of the trade present no laughing matter.
According to The Federal Trafficking in person report: Human trafficking is the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.
The positive news is that the trucking industry has been incredibly proactive in their approach to aiding the problem that trafficking presents, and has made a sizeable difference within the issue through educating themselves and finding outlets to report what seems like an incident of abuse.
Truckers Against Trafficking
Truckers are often involved in a greater deal of events surrounding human trafficking not because they solicit sex or engage with those in the sex trafficking trade, but because those selling young women and men are often showcasing them in areas of high traffic.
Furthermore, many truckers have personal accounts about these individuals because they are, by nature of the profession of trucking jobs, more observant and cognizant of situations that may seem dubious.
“They are (truckers) traveling everywhere in their jobs, all the time - they’re going to be encountering traffickers selling victims, because they travel the same roads,” said Lyn Thompson, Communications Specialist for Truckers Against Trafficking. “They are literally the eyes and ears of America’s highways. If they knew what to look for and what human trafficking is, they could become one of the most critical forces in this fight against this heinous crime.”
To this end, the advocacy organization Truckers Against Trafficking has been providing the trucking industry with education recognize human trafficking as well as the resources to help report incidents in order to halt the activities surrounding trafficking.
Since their inception in 2009, more than 300,000 people have registered on TAT’s website as having received the training and education provided by Truckers Against Trafficking. From the beginning days of the organization to the end of2016, the National Human Trafficking Hotline provided by Polaris Project has received a high volume of calls from truckers involving close to 1100 victims, 299 of which were minors.
“Prior to TAT starting, the National Human Trafficking Hotline had only received two calls from people who identified themselves as truckers, said Thompson. “Since we started, as of Dec. 31, 2016, the hotline has received 1589 calls from people who identified as truckers.”
Many truckers refer to people they’ve seen selling commercial sex by terms – “lot lizards” is chief among them.
Some have found over the years that a large part of the routine of trucker jobs is witnessing individuals selling sex, often from afar. When drivers become removed from the reality of the situations, making like of “lot lizards” and “pavement princesses” can be written off as seemingly harmless jokes.
However, Truckers Against Trafficking explains that using terms such as “lot lizards” can be detrimental to fighting the issue of human trafficking and can be demeaning to those who are victims of the trafficking trade.
“In trucking, we have found that the term ‘lot lizard’ is most often used to describe people selling commercial sex,” said Thompson. “It is our hope that as individuals become more aware of the realities of domestic sex trafficking insofar as many women and children are forced to participate in this crime, that when someone gets a knock on the door of their cab, or observes a woman or a child selling commercial sex, that their first thought won’t be a dehumanizing label but, instead, will be, ‘I’m looking at a potential victim.’ ”
Thompson explained that while the term is often thrown around in the industry as a joke, those who observe a potential victim have the ability to help them rather than to simply write them off as a hazard of the truck stop.
“TAT has created a window decal that allows drivers to keep the number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline handy, and reminds them of the critical role they can play in assisting someone who might not otherwise receive help,” said Thompson. “The more people can understand that each of these women, girls and boys they see has a back story, the more they will discard terms like lot lizard and the more they’ll see these folks are real people, the majority of whom who have been exploited.”
"The language we choose to use in society directly impacts our ability to pass laws to protect children," said Susanna Bean, Communications Manager for Shared Hope International. "Language matters, and language shaped by the reality of someone’s story of exploitation allows us to respond in compassion, and to craft strong laws for the protection of our children."
One of the most infamous and recent cases in moving forward towards ending sex trafficking was when the popular classified ads site, Backpage.com closed their “adult ads” section in January of this year. It’s contemporary classified site Craigslist removed its adult category in 2010.
Though noted resource for truckers to find work and many other services and items, Backpage.com had built a notoriety for its adult section rather than operating as a site wherein its focuses are on job listings or commerce.
Although Backpage.com did not testify At Capitol Hill in regards to accusations of participating in online trafficking, the site nonetheless took down the section.
Shared Hope International was one of the organizations that provided statistics that aided a Congressional report that brought the site down, and is an organization that is actively in touch with the trucking community.
“Shared Hope believes strongly in stopping online facilitators like Backpage.com, however even with a complete shutdown, we’re not blind to the fact that in of itself this will not end trafficking.,” said Bean. “To be effective, important steps like the ending of online facilitation of child sex trafficking needs to be combined with a reduction in the demand for commercial sex with minors. Ending demand is central to ending child sex trafficking, and Shared Hope prioritizes the issue in our research and policy development.”
Bean stressed that the public awareness surrounding the incident with Backpage.com was just as important as the site itself shutting down the adult section. Many people did not know such activity occurred from the website, nor did they understand that those offering the “adult services” are often minors and adults forced into the trade.
Industry Trends To End Trafficking
Through the assistance of organizations like Truckers Against Trafficking and Shared Hope International, the onus isn’t just on drivers to help end trafficking. Many large organizations including Peterbilt, Bridgestone, Love’s, Volvo and The Great American Trucking Show have become sponsors and advocates of educating truckers on the topic of human trafficking.
“These big names in the industry - including others and not to mention the state trucking and national trucking associations and organizations - have been invaluable as partners,” said Thompson “These partners have not only trained their own employees, and, in some cases, become TAT sponsors, but they’ve also used their influence and relationships within the industry to spread awareness about TAT and to motivate other organizations to check into us and to decide to train as well.”
Through spreading awareness on a local, state, and national level, drivers across the country have the opportunity to learn more about trafficking, even if it’s something as simple as perusing the website of an affiliated organization.
Shared Hope recommends that those who are not on the road to witness acts of trafficking can still influence policy towards ending trafficking and spread awareness throughout their network of drivers and those in the driving industry.
Anyone outside of the road can contact their local representative through a letter, email or phone call to let them know just how important combatting this issue is.
“Understanding and being aware that child sex trafficking is occurring in the US is the first step. Next, educate yourself on what the warning signs of sex trafficking,” said Bean. “Knowing the signs means that there is a greater chance that you will spot trafficking if it’s occurring around you. For cases going beyond child sex trafficking, or questions about human trafficking in general, we recommend the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888.”
It is up to truckers to take it upon themselves to end trafficking in their field of work through their actions and through making changes in the words they use when describing those involved in human trafficking.
Top Middle: Truckers Against Trafficking Annual Report 2016
Infographic: Truckers Against Trafficking Media Resources
Window Decal: Truckers Against Trafficking Annual report 2016
Vimeo Video: Shared Hope International
Human Trafficking Infographic: Truckers Against Trafficking Media Resources
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