"If you see a young person at a truck stop, think twice. Children generally don't go to truck stops, and if it seems wrong, it probably is. Don't be afraid to speak up about what you see."
– Krista Hoffman, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
Sex trafficking occurs at truck stops in the United States often in two forms, through pimp controlled prostitution and through fake massage businesses. Pimps frequently move their victims from city to city, forcing victims to engage in commercial sex at truck stops along the way. Brothels disguised as massage businesses are also sometimes present at or near truck stops. These networks control women through confinement and complicated debt bondage schemes.
Late one night, a trucker pulled over at a truck stop near the highway. The driver observed a man with a young girl who appeared to be around 13 years old, approach several trucks. One of the other truckers told him that the man was offering to sell the young girl for commercial sex. He had frequently seen them at the truck stop in the past. The driver contacted the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), who reported the information to a federal task force.*
*Based on calls received by the National HumanTrafficking Resource Center. Details have been changed to protect confidentiality.
When does it become trafficking?
Not all those working in prostitution at truck stops are trafficking victims. Sometimes, women offering commercial sex at truck stops are there independently and are not under the control of a pimp. However, just as is the case in street prostitution and escort services, victims under the control of a pimp have been found in a number of trafficking cases at truck stops. Women providing commercial sex in fake massage businesses are also often at high-risk for sex trafficking.
Prostitution becomes trafficking when the victim is a minor, or when a controller uses force, fraud and/or coercion to maintain control over the victim and to cause him/her to engage in commercial sex. For lists of common means of control, see Street Prostitution and Fake Massage Businesses.
*The above list is not comprehensive or cumulative. One element of force, fraud or coercion may be present, or many.
Transient nature of truckers & traffickers - Efforts by law enforcement to stop trafficking at truck stops in one location or region are undermined as the johns and pimps simply relocate to truck stops under less scrutiny. As a result, victims remain isolated from the surrounding communities.
Unique characteristics of truck stop trafficking
Advertising - Sex trafficking at truck stops has its own slang and unique means of communication: pimps advertise their victims over CB radios using code, johns search online trucker boards for information about where to purchase prostitution, johns signal that they want commercial sex using their headlights or stickers on their windows, and victims knock on the cab doors of trucks in the parking lots. Fake massage businesses at or near truck stops are commonly advertised on billboards or on signs at or near the truck stop.
Perpetration of related crimes – Pimps sometimes demand that their victims steal wallets or other items from the truckers, and occasionally, while drivers are distracted by the commercial sex act, pimps steal cargo.
Transportation across state lines – Often, especially if the victim is a minor, pimps require her to ask the john for a ride across state lines, so that the john, not the pimp, is in violation of the Mann Act. The Mann Act prohibits transportation across state lines for the purposes of prostitution.
Regional Scope - Typically, pimps will require their victims to engage in commercial sex at multiple truck stops. Individuals prostituted at truck stops are typically moved out of an area after two to three weeks, and may be moved through a dozen or more states.
- The availability of statistics is limited due to the crime’s hidden nature and limited awareness by law enforcement and social service providers.
- Victims of pimp-controlled sex trafficking are commonly forced to meet quotas of $500 to $1,000 a night. Victims working a truck stop typically earn $5 - $100 per sex act. All earnings are confiscated by the pimp.
- Victims of sex trafficking within fake massage businesses are commonly forced to have sex with 6 to 10 men a day.
For more resources on sex trafficking, click here