The National Academies

NCHRP 20-121 [Anticipated]

State DOT Contributions to the Study, Investigation, and Interdiction of Human Trafficking

  Project Data
Source: Delaware
Funds: $300,000
Staff Responsibility: Stephan A. Parker
Fiscal Year: 2018

This project has been tentatively selected and a project statement (request for proposals) is expected in October 2017. The project statement will be available on this world wide web site. The problem statement below will be the starting point for a panel of experts to develop the project statement.

Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Human traffickers in the United States utilize national, state, and local transportation infrastructure and systems to transport men, women, and children for forced labor and/or sex commerce. Research shows that there is limited insight and understanding of human trafficking networks, and this lack of information impedes investigation, interdiction, and decision support related to human trafficking by law enforcement agencies. In particular, traffickers operate clandestine networks and victims of trafficking do not self-identify. These characteristics of human trafficking confound the efforts of law enforcement and the partner agencies they may rely on, such as state DOTs and their employees.

A sporadic, piecemeal approach to prosecution impedes deterrence nationally, since different states use different statutes to approach these crimes. With respect to the sexual exploitation of minors, for example, some prosecutors use solicitation statutes, while others charge under human trafficking statutes. Additionally, most law enforcement entities have not directed staff to collect human-trafficking-related data. Where relevant information is collected, it is rarely coded properly for easy access and sharing; and with respect to data sharing, interoperability issues impede partnering. The producers and “stewards” of the types of data potentially useful to understanding human trafficking often do not have incentives (nor even the awareness) to actively share the data. For example, technologies and data collection supporting the transportation system may produce information useful to the investigation and interdiction of human traffickers, as well as the identification of victims, but data needs to get into the right hands.

Contributions from state DOTs are needed to support the enforcement of human trafficking laws; help victims (e.g., rescuing them and connecting them to services); and provide improved decision support for policy, operations, etc. There are several actions that state DoT personnel can take to gain awareness and justify the use of resources to supply valuable information that supports anti-human trafficking efforts. These actions include the following: knowing the signs of human trafficking; collecting actionable information; utilizing the national human trafficking help line; cooperating with requests from internal and external law enforcement for information that can be derived from transportation agency assets or personnel; and investment in, and use of, helpful technologies. Also, through more strategic efforts to support anti-human trafficking efforts, state DOTs can support data availability, quality, and usability (to ensure legal sufficiency) and thereby support successful investigations, interdiction, and decision-making.

Many transportation professionals are not familiar with the problem of human trafficking; and while some have awareness, their knowledge may be limited to ad hoc experiences. It can be challenging to rally the resources needed to educate employees on the scope of the problem and on the specific steps they can take—through planning, programming, and daily operations—to mitigate it. This project will inform state DOTs interested in developing structured responses to human trafficking appropriate to their states, and in supporting their employees who may be on the front lines against criminal activity.

The objective is to identify the mechanisms that state DOTs are using to assist law enforcement in combatting human trafficking, assess their effectiveness, and develop high-level guidance for state DOTs supporting law enforcement and other authorities in the study, investigation, and interdiction of human trafficking. The research product would be a Handbook and model presentations for senior managers and field staff.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, with victims suffering physical, economic, and social harms. Its victims often appear complicit, by refusing to identify themselves or to otherwise assist law enforcement. To society, the negative aspects of human trafficking include public health threats, e.g., epidemics, and the illegal activities funded by human trafficking, such as terrorism and racketeering. Unlike illicit drug trafficking, the “commodity” involved in human trafficking can be used again and again, making for a lucrative trade.

State DOTs have several potential roles. A state DOT’s driver identification programs and other documentation services can generate leads; and oversight of license plates, vehicle registration, routing, and permitting provides a view into trends in commercial and individual driver behavior. The regulatory relationship with the transportation sector creates ties that can be leveraged for non-regulatory interaction. In some state DOTs, staff have become “ambassadors” to motor carriers on the human trafficking issue. They supply group training, for example, with significant results. A few years ago, state DOT staff engaged a Missouri carrier in outreach, and that carrier provided training to its employees. A Florida-based employee of the carrier received the training, and, while in transit sometime later, spotted strange behavior at a Virginia truck stop. He reported the fleeting incident, and, as a result, authorities freed an Iowa woman from sexual slavery.

Close coordination with law enforcement is extremely important in addressing security in the transportation system. Sample successes in routine collaboration include ITS technologies used to issue “amber alerts” for missing children and the “silver” alert for missing elderly people. Technologies, such as video surveillance systems, thermal cameras, and remote sensing, may be used to support activities to combating human trafficking.

In recent years, human trafficking investigation and interdiction by the Department of Justice and others has increased, in response to directives from the highest level of the US government. The USDOT and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have collaborated on outreach and engagement with transportation industry leaders, unions, and workers. For example, the DHS Blue Campaign against human trafficking trained 55,000 DOT employees and 20,000 contractors. Through USDOT, there is an interactive, web-based “workplace” available anywhere with anti-human trafficking training materials and response protocols. USDOT also has coordinated with the private sector. As a result, Amtrak committed to training 20,000 employees; and commercial airlines, through the “Blue Lightening” initiative, are utilizing training, materials, and safe reporting methods for personnel.

In 2014, TRB held a session on human trafficking at its annual meeting. Federal and state organizations discussed critical issues and initiatives, including the State of Iowa DOT’s collaboration with Truckers Against Trafficking, which has been a model for many states.

In 2016, TRB conducted “Workshop 836: Expanding the Scope of Resiliency: Human Trafficking and Hazardous Materials Concerns” at its 95th Annual Meeting. This workshop built on the 2014 session and included audience interactions that brought forward new information, such as a recent app enabling real-time tips by truckers and others. Also at the 2016 session, Human Trafficking expert Dr. Louise Shelly discussed the reach of trafficking networks across multiple sectors. A presenter from the USDOT examined linkages to freight management. Data strategies for State DOTs were discussed also, as a mechanism for supporting the investigation and interdiction of human trafficking.

The latter session topic, data strategies, can be one focus for this project. An important area of transportation sector assistance in human trafficking interdiction is the identification, collection, preservation, and sharing of actionable information for law enforcement investigations, interdiction, and decision support. The Truckers Against Trafficking model, as adopted by the Iowa DOT, includes activities such as collecting data on the interdiction stops that lead to human trafficking investigations. Good data supports law enforcement success, both in investigations and interdiction. A relevant and well-understood data strategy can sharpen analysis of key issues—numbers of arrests, prosecutions, successful convictions, number of victims (including method of recruitment), routes and patterns of trafficking (states and countries of origin and destination) etc.—for the purposes of policy making, decision support, and coordination with other transportation agencies.

A key task in this project could be to examine current practices at state DOTs and in other transportation modes, resulting in
  • Identification of the role(s) of state DOTs in supporting FBI and other law enforcement activities on combatting human trafficking and
  • Understanding of policies and practices that state DOTs have implemented and can implement on this topic, including a gap analysis.
The value of the research results would be (1) to raise awareness and (2) to allow states to capitalize on the experience of early adopter states. There is a strong likelihood of implementation-ready products because there is a ready foundation for a handbook, with field-tested tool kits and other efforts in place. This research can pull together existing information, assess it, and develop more detailed guidance on approaches to, e.g., DOT-supported prosecutions, diverse modes (rural interstate v. urban transit center), or other interdiction entry points (e.g., state DOT documentation services). The negative impact of not funding this research is continuation of a “piece-meal” approach that sees DOTs discovering, on their own, the operational practices needed to support law enforcement and fully implement guidance from key partners, such as Truckers Against Trafficking.
Note: The AASHTO Standing Committee on Research discussed several aspects of the topic and how DOT interests intersect with the broad issues the research could entail. NASEM’s Health and Medicine Division should be engaged.

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