The story so far:
Mark gets a regular run between Toronto and Montreal that gives him two round-trips every three days. He ends up staying overnight at a truck stop near Kingston once every three days and notices the lot lizards working the lot. He hadn’t thought human trafficking was a problem in Canada, but now he knows it’s a problem everywhere. Mark sees one of the girls waiting for her ride one morning and sits down to talk to her. She’s not in the mood for conversation and seems afraid that she might be caught talking to Mark by her pimp. When the man arrives, it’s clear he has control over her. Mark offers her the option to stay with him, but she leaves with her pimp anyway…
On his next overnight stay at the truck stop Mark noticed a Western Star parked in the lot that had a Truckers Against Trafficking bumper sticker on the side of the tractor. Mark had always thought that human trafficking had been a problem in third-world countries where children were bought and sold into slavery, or in the US where migrant workers were trucked over the border to work on farms and then held captive by their masters for as long as they had a use for them. But the licence plate on this truck was from Alberta, so apparently this wasn’t just a problem in far-off places, but right here in Canada, in Mark’s back yard. As he was thinking this, the driver of the Western Star got out of his truck. Mark wasn’t about to let the opportunity to educate himself pass him by. He decided to ask the guy some questions and see if he couldn’t learn more about this problem.
“Uh, I noticed your sticker,” he said.
“What?” The driver turned.
“Your sticker. Truckers Against Trafficking.”
“Oh, yeah that.”
“Is it a big group?”
The driver shrugged. “Depends what you think is big. I know it’s growing, that’s for sure.”
“You know,” Mark began. “I didn’t think it was that big a problem, but in the last few weeks I’ve been watching this yard and I’ve realized that there’s trafficking going on here.”
“Sure it is. Why not here?” the man said. “You’ve got young girls, lonely men with a few dollars in their pocket, and,” he gestured to the line of trucks parked on Party Row, “plenty of places for them to be alone together for a while.”
“Yeah, I actually met one of the girls working the lot,” Mark said.
“Oh, really?” One of the driver’s eyebrows rose inquisitively.
“No, not like that. She was in the restaurant. I tried talking to her, but she didn’t want to talk. She was afraid her boyfriend would see her more than anything.”
“That wasn’t her boyfriend, that was her pimp.”
“I used that word with her and she seemed surprised.”
“The more innocent the girls are, the easier they are to control.”
“Yeah, well, her pimp came by and that was it.”
The driver nodded. “The girls come from broken homes or have other problems that they think will get better when they run away. Then while they’re on the run, they meet someone who seems nice. But within a few hours they can find themselves hundreds of miles from home being held against their will and forced to do things they’ve never done before…all to make money for their pimp.”
“It’s still hard to believe,” Mark said. “In this day and age, with the Internet, e-mail, texting, Twitter and every other form of communication at people’s disposal, how is it possible to so isolate someone and have complete control over them?”
“These men start out being persuasive, then they become manipulative. It’s not all that hard to imagine…you’re 13 years old and far from home, and some man tells you you’re good looking and lavishes all kinds of attention on you. Then it turns, and suddenly if you don’t do as he says, he’ll have someone kill your entire family. Or if you talk about calling the police, he’ll laugh at you and tell you the police won’t do a thing for you because you’re breaking the law yourself. He tells you you’ll get arrested and you start to equate going to the police with getting into trouble. Eventually it just becomes so much easier just to do whatever you’re told.”
“These girls already believe that no one cares about them, so when they’re told no one’s going to help them, it’s pretty easy to believe.”
“But that can’t be the case,” Mark said.
“Of course not,” the man said. “There are all kinds of people across North America doing everything they can to save them, like well, Truckers Against Trafficking for one.”
“But what about the here and now? What about these girls who are here right now, tonight?”
“If you see trafficking going on, call the cops. There have been plenty of girls who’ve been saved just by a simple call to the police.” The driver opened the door to his truck, reached in and gave something to Mark. It was a small Truckers Against Trafficking sticker.
“Awareness is important. Put it on your truck somewhere people can see it. At the very least, it might stop them from knocking on your door at night.”
That night, after the sun went down, Mark watched the van pull into the lot and three young girls get out. He dialed 911.
“Police, fire, ambulance?”
“What’s the nature of your emergency?”
Mark explained that he was out at the truck stop and that there were young girls – not even teenagers yet – roaming from truck to truck asking men if they would like to have sex with them.
“That’s going on now, sir?”
“It’s going on all night, every night. You probably know all about this already, but…”
“We haven’t had any other calls about this tonight.”
Mark shook his head. Surely someone else had seen what was going on and called the police about it. If not tonight, then on another night. This couldn’t possibly be the first time anyone had ever called the police to report a problem.
“Will you be sending someone out here tonight?”
“A car has been dispatched,” she said. “Now can you stay on the line sir so I can get some information from you?”
Mark gave her his name and contact number, then watched intently through his front windshield the rest of the night for a police car to show. The girls were working the lot hard. He’d seen two of them climb in and out of three different trucks, while the other girl had visited two. And still no police. Then, finally, an hour-and-a-half after he’d made his call, a marked patrol car drove into the lot. One of the girls was actually just getting out of a truck as the car entered the lot, but upon seeing the police she quickly jumped back up into the truck and stayed there.
In all, the police were there for 45 minutes, waiting for something to happen. At one point one of the officers went into the restaurant and came back with two cups of coffee, but after that the car did one last lap around the lot and then left for the night. Within minutes, the girls were back out in the lot knocking on doors.
“So much for calling the police,” Mark said under his breath. It had worked to stop the trade for a short time, but there would have to be a car posted to the lot all night long for it to shut down the operation completely and it was doubtful that the local constabulary had that kind of manpower to devote to a problem that was not readily apparent to a casual observer.
“There’s got to be a better way.”
–Mark Dalton returns next month in the conclusion of Human Traffic on the Road.
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