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Truckers Against Trafficking part of Del Mar training

Lynette Cervantes, instructor for the Del Mar College Transportation Training Services program, shows the Truckers Against Trafficking card given to each student in the program. Courtesy photo

Lynette Cervantes recounts the time a scantily clad young girl knocked on the door of her truck cab at an Albany, New York, truck stop. It was 20 degrees outside.

“The girl asked if I wanted company,” said Cervantes, instructor for the Del Mar College Transportation Training Services program in Corpus Christi. “I told her, ‘No, but if you’d like to warm up for awhile, you’re more than welcome.’ She responded that if I didn’t want a date, she had to move on.”

Cervantes immediately called law enforcement, which arrived in minutes, surrounding the truck stop.

“I don’t consider myself a hero,” Cervantes said of her story. “I would hope that anyone would have made that call. These people are somebody’s family members.”

Students in transportation training classes at Del Mar College have been instructed on how to handle the human trafficking side of their industry since 2009. The institution uses the Truckers Against Trafficking initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to equipping and empowering those in the trucking industry to fight human trafficking in the course of their everyday jobs.

“We are proud to have this training in our curriculum so that thousands of students who have graduated or will be graduating can help prevent this terrible crime,” said John Rojas, Del Mar director of Transportation Training Services.

Del Mar is ahead of the curve on human trafficking education. A new Texas law went into effect Sept. 1 requiring training for truck drivers and other commercial vehicle operators to recognize signs of human trafficking. Under the law, applicants for a commercial driver’s license receive information regarding how to identify signs of human trafficking and how to report it.

One of the TAT teaching tools is a video demonstrating how truckers can identify human trafficking activity. The video uses the firsthand experience of Shari, a young girl, who, along with her cousin Chrissy, were kidnapped from a Wendy’s restaurant and forced into prostitution at truck stops.

Shari, Chrissy and seven other minors were rescued as a result of one phone call from a truck driver. That call is also credited with shutting down a 13-state human trafficking ring.

More than 400,000 professional drivers are currently TAT-certified, according to the organization’s website. Del Mar’s Transportation Training Services program provides wallet cards and window stickers with information about the TAT initiative.

“Thanks to Del Mar College for providing training on identifying and reporting human trafficking,” said State Rep. Todd Hunter, a longtime advocate for expanded anti-human trafficking legislation. “Human trafficking is an important issue that needs to be prevented everywhere. The more we know, the better we will be able to help.”

Officials estimate more than 20 million people are trapped in the human trafficking epidemic worldwide. TAT has responded to more than 1,800 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, identifying 525 human trafficking cases involving 972 victims, 315 of whom were minors.

Cervantes said a fellow trucker didn’t make a call when he suspected human trafficking was taking place at a truck stop he was utilizing, and he later regretted that decision.

“We can all make a difference,” she said. “Truck drivers are the eyes and ears of the industry. Unfortunately, traffickers use truck stops to pedal these children.

“Make the call, save lives,” Cervantes added, echoing the TAT motto.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline number is (888) 373-7888.

Michael Bratten is a communication specialist at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi.

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