The Problem Too Big to Ignore

Nicole Schlosser
Posted on February 6, 2019
As part of a campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking, Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Schools supplied and wrapped 72 of its buses, each intended to represent 50 of the 3,600 children who are trafficked in the state each year.
As part of a campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking, Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Schools supplied and wrapped 72 of its buses, each intended to represent 50 of the 3,600 children who are trafficked in the state each year.

Seventy-two buses. Over 9,000 drivers training in one state. And thousands more pupil transporters in additional states planning to tackle a “problem too big to ignore” — human trafficking.

January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and to mark the occasion, a Georgia school district took part early in the month in a campaign conducted by a nonprofit organization, Street Grace, that combats child exploitation. Gwinnett County Public Schools supplied and wrapped 72 of its buses, each intended to represent 50 of the 3,600 children who are trafficked each year in the state, with messages to raise awareness of the issue.  

Street Grace also made a powerful video that highlighted Gwinnett County’s buses and their role in the campaign.

“It is a difficult reminder that these statistics represent lives,” said Bob Rodgers, president and CEO of Street Grace, of the campaign in the video. “And these lives — our kids — are not invisible. Because child sex trafficking in Georgia and child sex trafficking around the United States of America is a problem too big to ignore.”

Meanwhile, the school transportation world is not ignoring this problem by any means. Busing on the Lookout (BOTL), an anti-trafficking awareness and training program, has recently taken hold among pupil transporters. The program is headed up by Truckers Against Trafficking, an organization dedicated to educating and mobilizing members of the trucking and busing industries around the issue.

Last summer, the state of Iowa implemented the new training program to spot human trafficking victims. Completing the program is now required for the state’s 9,000 school bus drivers.

Max Christensen, an executive officer for school transportation at the Iowa Department of Education, said in an interview with SBF in August that the state first learned of the program at the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association’s 55th Annual Transportation Conference and Trade Show in July. Transportation directors from more than 160 of the state’s school districts attended the conference and agreed on the program’s benefit, he added.

“It can happen in the largest city; it can happen in the smallest town,” Christensen said about human trafficking. “By making sure that every school bus driver in the state has it [the training], we’re certainly doing our part to curb human trafficking and hopefully prevent it from happening in Iowa.”  

More recently, school bus drivers in Ankeny, Iowa, participated in an anti-trafficking class on Feb. 2, WHO TV reported.

Additionally, the Wisconsin Department of Justice created a Human Trafficking Bureau in 2017, and has held training sessions with the transportation, hospitality, and health care industries, Julie Braun, a policy advisor with the agency, told Wisconsin Public Radio.

The state’s Department of Justice plans to do a series of trainings with pupil transporters this year, including regional safety meetings for the Wisconsin School Bus Association in the spring, according to the news source.

“Our school bus drivers see our kids every day. They know the neighborhoods. They know bus stops,” Braun told Wisconsin Public Radio. “They may be the last person to see somebody who’s going to school that decides not to go to school anymore or has been taken somewhere by traffickers.”

She added that drivers may pick up on signs that no one else can, such as someone suspicious waiting for a student at their bus stop, or talk from a student about an older boyfriend or girlfriend.

School districts and pupil transportation associations in other states are also taking action by empowering their school bus drivers to recognize this problem with BOTL training. Those include Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wyoming, Annie Sovcik, the organization’s program director, told SBF.

Wisconsin-based school bus operator Go Riteway is also providing the training to their 1,400 drivers and other staff members. They are joined by a handful of other school bus companies nationwide, according to Sovcik.

“The receptivity has been really inspiring,” she added.

This commitment to raise awareness of trafficking is a good reminder of how connected drivers are to their communities, and how crucial they can be to stopping or even preventing these crimes. 

Related Topics: driver training, Georgia, Iowa, Wisconsin

Nicole Schlosser Executive Editor
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