John Habermann, Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) research engineer, recently coauthored the article “The Contribution of State and Local DOTs to Disrupting Human Trafficking” in the June 2021 issue of the ITE Journal. The publication reaches nearly 16,000 subscribers and Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) members.
The article defines human trafficking as the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of financial gain through labor and/or sex, essentially as slaves.” According to Habermann and his coauthors, in 2016, some 400,000 people were “living in conditions of modern slavery in the United States alone.” Roadways, terminals, stations and vehicles are often the first places where victims are recognized by those looking to exploit them. The team traces where human trafficking intersects with transportation and recommends ways for transportation professionals to help end the practice. For example, local or state departments of transportation (DOTs) can aid human trafficking prevention in this early stage by
- increasing awareness of what human trafficking is,
- conducting routine training on preventive measures,
- partnering or assisting regionally to intervene, and
- collecting frontline data to help other agencies join the fight.
As indicated by that last bullet, not only can transportation professionals help effect immediate change related to human trafficking, but they can also contribute to developing future counter-trafficking tools and strategies. The article points to examples where state DOTs have already embraced these roles. For example, Texas has “laws requiring state DOT employees to be trained in awareness and indicators of human trafficking.”
The Federal Transit Administration wants to improve training and awareness materials to help with crime prevention, including human trafficking, in transit facilities.
According to Habermann, “Over the next year and a half, TTI will develop outreach materials and training curricula geared at increasing awareness at transit facilities about human trafficking led by Zach Elgart with support from Lisa Minjares-Kyle and Troy Walden. What once was a community-involvement activity for me has developed into a passionate research area in my TTI work. It’s important to me to try to learn more about how my professional discipline can help disrupt and eventually end this reprehensible practice. Pursuing this was only possible through the support of the TTI leadership and TTI’s commitment to contribute to a safe transportation system for all users including those marginalized by illicit activities.”