SAN ANTONIO -- Many in law enforcement consider truckers heroes, helping to protect the state's most vulnerable kids from a lifetime of physical and emotional trauma.
On Thursday, Attorney General Ken Paxton came to San Antonio to announce a coalition to encourage truckers to become the eyes and ears that identify and catch human trafficking on the state’s roadways.
According to Paxton, truck stops and roadside motels can be hotspots for what he refers to as modern day slavery. And truckers are often the first people to notice it.
“They’re just a good resource out there for us because they’re out, every single day, connecting with the world,” Paxton said.
Michael Morales, a truck driver and veteran, agrees. He says that, in 12 years of driving, not a day has gone by that he didn’t see something sketchy enough to draw his attention.
“I’ve seen everything but Bigfoot at the truck stop,” Morales said.
That includes the occasional theft, a shady deal, or, in one instance, a particularly young girl offering her body for cash.
“I called the cops on one of them, the girl looked underage,” Morales recalled. “She kept asking for money. She looked maybe 13 or 14 years old.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Texas ranks second worst in the country for reports of human trafficking. Last year, the organization recorded more calls and tips from truckers in Texas than they did medical professionals, school employees, or clergy.
Many of those callers were able to pick up on subtle signs.
“It could be an RV or a van pulled up outside the truck stops,” said Kylla Lanier, the Deputy Director with the national non-profit Truckers Against Trafficking. “They might also see branding tattoos. We’ve had a lot of victims that have had their pimp’s name tattooed on them, or a dollar sign, ‘daddy’s money maker,’ things of that nature.”
Morales said that he’s learned to identify those kinds of things by instinct but believes that truckers should coordinate better to ensure that none of those hidden red flags escape their attention.
He said that those who look closely can make a big difference.
“I think I’ve probably saved one person’s life,” Morales said.
Truckers Against Trafficking recommends those who see something call 1-888-373-7888. That hotline takes tips across the country 24-hours a day.