TORONTO, Ont. — Beth Jacobs was just 16 years old when she was drugged, taken against her will, and trafficked at a truck stop for the first time.
She knew the man who offered her a ride home after she missed a bus in downtown Minneapolis one afternoon. He offered her a drink from his McDonald’s cup. But then she passed out, and when she came to it was already night. Something wasn’t right.
“I asked him where we were and he said, ‘We’re at a truck stop,’” she said. “And then he said, ‘Baby, do you know what I am?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘I’m a pimp.’”
Jacobs says she laughed because she was terrified and nervous, and told the trafficker she wasn’t that type of girl and wanted to go home. When she tried to leave, he pulled her back into the car by her hair.
“He said, ‘No, bitch. I didn’t ask you. I own you.’”
That’s when the trafficker told her that she had to go to a man’s truck and sleep with him.
“I didn’t want to,” she said. “But he was beating on me and I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t run to the building because we were too far away in the parking lot.”
Jacobs said the truck driver raped her. And when he was finished, went back to the trafficker to ask for a discount because Jacobs “cried too much.”
“[The trafficker] beat me up there in the parking lot,” she said. “And he told me he’d kill me if I ever lost him anymore money.”
For the next six years, Jacobs was trafficked and sexually abused at truck stops, motels, and anywhere else her trafficker could think of. She was robbed of all of her possessions. Her escape came when she was arrested on prostitution charges and bailed out by a friend. She found her way to a women’s support group, and that’s when she found the tools to get her life back together.
Today, Jacobs is a field trainer and survivor leader for Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) – a nonprofit organization that is working to educate and empower truck drivers across America to combat human trafficking on the road. The organization, including Jacobs herself, teaches truck drivers to look out for the common red flags that are linked to human trafficking and equips them with the skills on how to report these crimes.
So far, thanks in large part to TAT, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received close to 2,300 calls from truck drivers reporting more than 600 cases involving more than 1,100 human trafficking victims.
Jacobs said she hopes her story has an impact on even more truck drivers than it already has. Her advice to truck drivers is if they witness anything suspicious, to call the local authorities or the human trafficking hotline right away. Common red flags include minors offering sex, bruising and injury on the sex worker, and cars and RVs parked in truck stops,
“I know some people are hesitant to do so because they don’t know exactly what they’re seeing. But they should call anyway. The worst thing that can go wrong, is that they’re wrong. But what If they’re right in their suspicions? It’s better to be wrong than not call at all, in my opinion. Nobody called for me. And I would hate for that to happen to others,” she said. “We need more people to know that truck stops are not horrible places anymore, and that truck drivers will not stand for these crimes.”
In addition to her work with TAT, Jacobs also successfully aided in getting a vacating law passed in the state of Arizona, when she was fired for having a criminal record for prostitution as a result of being trafficked. According to Arizona law, she had to disclose her conviction 99 years after the fact. So she spoke out, fought the system, and won.
To report suspicious activity where you believe human trafficking could be involved, you can call the newly created Canadian Human Trafficking National Hotline toll-free at 1-833-900-1010 or the US National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
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