GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan State Police are ramping up efforts to bring awareness to human trafficking, getting truckers on board to help spot victims and call in police.
“It’s going on a lot,” truck driver Carlos Pentecost said. “And where I’m from in Detroit city, we have the Canada bridge, we have a lot of casinos and stuff going on, and it’s very bad for sex trafficking.”
In 2021, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported more than 400 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
This week, Michigan State Police is partnering with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and Truckers Against Trafficking to get the word out about what to look for.
“It would be impossible for law enforcement to take on the task alone, so that is why the partnership with Truckers Against Trafficking and the trucking industry is crucial,” MSP Lt. Chris Keller said.
Drivers like Pentecost may spot red flags like movement in the back of company trucks.
“You’re really not supposed to go in and out of the truck, so if I specifically see somebody go inside their trailer, I know something’s wrong, something’s up. There are either people in there or he’s stealing something or doing something, and I will let somebody know inside the gas station, or if there is an authority around, I will let them know,” Pentecost said.
“At truck stops, it would be people going truck to truck,” Keller offered as another example. “There have been recoveries in our state of that in the past.”
Also suspicious are situations where a potential victim won’t make eye contact or speak to anyone.
Norm Vancuyle, another truck driver who has been behind the wheel for nearly 20 years, is vigilant for himself and others because he has a daughter.
“It really hits home because like I told her, ‘Someone can snatch you up and you’re gone.’ We lived off a main highway so it’s nothing for someone to stop, pick someone up and never see them again,” Vancuyle said. “I’m always on the lookout for strange stuff.”
Most trafficking victims aren’t kidnapped, but rather coerced by someone they know. They may be frequently transported from place to place, which is why truckers are in a prime position to spot them.
“A lot of times it’s easy to not understand that these people are victims,” Keller said.
“They are getting forced to do things they don’t want to do and we are the only ones who can help them. If you see it, you’ve got to say something,” Pentecost said.
If you see something suspicious, contact the National Human Trafficking Resources Center at 888.373.7888 or text BE FREE to 233733.