Sex trafficking occurs at truck stops in the United States often in two forms, through commercial sex and through fake massage businesses.
Due to their frequently remote locations and transient customer base, truck stops are an ideal venue for traffickers seeking to profit from exploiting victims without interference or undue attention.
Traffickers 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.
Scroll down to read more in the overview below.
Who are the traffickers?
In sex trafficking situations at truck stops, traffickers compel women and/or children into engaging in commercial sex at truck stops. These traffickers may be individual traffickers or part of a larger trafficking network. They may have prior relationships or connections with the victims or they may have been strangers who offered to help provide transportation to runaway youth.
Traffickers utilizing truck stops as a venue for commercial sex frequently move their victims from city to city, using the truck stops as an exclusive marketplace or as one of many venues to maximize their profits. Traffickers in both commercial sex at truck stops and fake massage business situations target this venue due to the potential to profit from male truckers and travelers willing to pay for commercial sex, as well as to use the geographic isolation to their advantage.
How is it advertised?
Sex trafficking at truck stops is frequently advertised through Citizens Band (CB) radio, a form of short distance radio used by truckers. This source of advertisement is concealed through slang/code specific to the trucking industry. Onsite, buyers 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. Commercial sex is also advertised online, where buyers search web-based trucker boards for information about where to purchase prostitution. Fake massage businesses at or near truck stops are commonly advertised on billboards or on signs at or near the truck stop.
Who are the victims?
The victims of sex trafficking at truck stops may vary, however the majority are adult women, both domestic and foreign, traffickers sometimes target minors. Runaway and homeless youth are at extreme risk for commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking at truck stops. Not only are these minors at-risk of being recruited into commercial sex by traffickers, but they are also more likely to engage in survival sex at truck stops for basic necessities such as food, shelter, or transportation. Fake massage businesses at truck stops often prey on Asian women with promises of good jobs, and instead compel them into commercial sex through a well-developed system of debt bondage. Many of these women are often isolated due to language and cultural barriers.
Human trafficking spans all victim demographics and the vulnerabilities traffickers exploit are unique and specific to each victim (e.g. a developmental disorder, past child abuse, cultural beliefs). However, the NHTRC sees recurring vulnerabilities among sex trafficking victims at truck stops. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):
Age and Homelessness: Traffickers frequently target runaway and homeless youth for sex trafficking at truck stops. Youth are often recruited at bus stations, youth shelters or public venues and offered transportation or shelter.
Unfamiliarity with Surroundings: Minors who either are in new cities or have been transported to new states by traffickers often lack the resources or information needed to navigate their surroundings, access resources or know their rights. Traffickers may move victims quickly to new locations or states in order to perpetuate an unfamiliarity with their surroundings. Many victims of trafficking in truck stops report a feeling of helplessness and reliance on their trafficker for continued transportation and support.
When does it become trafficking?
Commercial sex at truck stops becomes trafficking when the employer uses force, fraud, or coercion to maintain control over the victim and to cause the victim to believe that s/he has no other choice but to continue providing commercial sex. Examples of frequently used means of control include:
Force: Physical or sexual abuse, often in the form of repeated rapes by one or more people to create submission; confinement to the residence; restrictions on movement and communication to family and friends; forced abortions; lack of medical treatment or reproductive health; forced and frequent movement between cities.
Fraud: False promises of a better life through the trafficker presenting as a boyfriend or caretaker figure; false information about working conditions, payment, and whether commercial sex will be required; telling the victim that if he or she initially consented to be part of the escort service that he or she must continue to consent and is not a victim.
Coercion: Threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to his or her family and others in the community; confiscation of birth certificates and other identification documents; forced dependency on the trafficker; rumors of or witnessed violence at hands of traffickers used as threats; cycle of rewards and punishments; threats of police involvement and arrest; threats of deportation if victim is a foreign national.
* An individual under the age of 18 engaged in commercial sex is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.
National Human Trafficking Referral Directory
This online Referral Directory is made up of anti-trafficking organizations and programs that offer emergency, transitional, or long-term services to victims and survivors of human trafficking as well as those that provide resources and opportunities in the anti-trafficking field.
Human Trafficking Hotline Statistics
signals were received by the Hotline in 2021. Includes calls, texts, and online chats and tips.