In his first 15 years in the trucking industry, Bill Brady was unaware of youth sex trafficking along America’s highways, a problem hiding in plain sight.
But after the New York Mills resident joined Lodestar Transport Services in Barnesville as an owner-operator, he learned about the issue through Truckers Against Trafficking, a Colorado-based group dedicated to ending the crime. And Brady decided to take action.
“I didn’t realize it was going on,” said Brady, one of the 2013 finalists for American Trucker magazine’s “Trucker of the Year,” in a phone interview as he drove his big rig through Nebraska. “I could have been doing something about this.”
“I don’t want to see this happen to any kids I know,” he added. “I just don’t want to see this happen to anybody’s kids. If there is a way to prevent this from happening, I’d like to get the knowledge out there.”
Over the past year, Brady has participated in panel discussions at Minnesota high schools, Columbia University in New York and at another college in Missouri. He’s also spread awareness throughout central Minnesota, including in Wadena, where he grew up and where more than 1,000 people are employed in trade, transportation and utilities, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
One of Brady’s stops was at Wadena’s Polman Transfer, which employs 85 drivers. He dropped off a training video and handed out fliers to employees.
“(Truckers Against Trafficking) is doing a good job of getting the information out,” said co-owner DJ Polman.
The sex trafficking problem “is surprising,” Polman said. “It just takes somebody to take a phone call. If you see anything out of the ordinary, don’t be afraid to call the authorities. It could save somebody’s life.”
Forced prostitution, particularly of underage girls, definitely exists, said John Sivicky, a 37-year veteran of the open road.
“They’re out there,” said the safety director and dispatcher at Tony’s Transfer in Wadena. “You get approached all the time at the truckstop … It’s just a vicious cycle. (Truckers) can’t tell whether they’re being held against their will or not.”
When Sivicky attended the Louisville truck show in the spring, he stopped by the Trucker’s Against Trafficking booth and picked up decals for his drivers.
“It’s a good program,” he said. “I’m the safety side of the company – I have to watch these things.”
Locally, the trafficking problem appears to be under the radar or nonexistent.
“I don’t believe we have had anything like that. Not in our area,” said Erica Penner, who has worked as a dispatcher for 15 years for the Wadena County Sheriff’s Department.
Otter Tail County administrative assistant Lisa Langston said she also hadn’t heard of any cases during her 12 years on the job.
“I think I would remember one like that,” she said.
Carol Henry, manager of the Petro Serve USA truck stop along U.S. 71 in Bemidji, said her store has not had an issue with prostitution. Neither has the Big Chief truck stop outside of Fergus Falls, said manager Amber Leuthardt.
But just because it’s not obvious, Sivicky said, doesn’t mean it’s not happening: “It’s amazing. You can be in the middle of nowhere and it’s going on out there.”
When Sivicky sees someone too young, he said, he calls the police.
Brady said he plans to continue his fight against sex trafficking with presentations around the state and country, and by passing out Truckers Against Trafficking literature to area truckers.
“I know I’ve got a long way to go,” said the 37-year-old with an estimated 2.4 million miles behind him.
For more information, visit truckersagainsttrafficking.org. To report trafficking, call the organization’s national hotline, at 1-888-373-7888.
“Be aware of your surroundings,” said Sydni Mansager, safety director and co-owner of Lodestar. “Better call and make a mistake than not call and find a young girl dead in the ditch.”
Forum News Service