WASHINGTON— The House Wednesday passed three bills to increase funding and deploy more federal workers to fight human trafficking in the U.S., while a anti-trafficking advocates told a Senate committee that truckers can play a key role in reducing the human trafficking by learning how to spot the victims in their cross-country travels.

Defined as “modern-day slavery” by the Department of Homeland Security, an estimated 7, 572 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2016 by the Human Trafficking Hotline, created by nonprofit research firm Polaris, which advocates on behalf of trafficking victims.
Since 2012 there has been a 130 percent increase in reported cases of human trafficking, with California, Texas, and Florida as the top three states in the country for rates of identified human trafficking, according to the hotline.

Traffickers often seek out isolated locations to target vulnerable women and children and promise them money, clothing, housing or drugs, experts say, That makes truck stops and highways ideal spots for the victims to be nabbed or transported.

“There are over 3 million (commercial driver’s license) holders in America, making them truly the eyes and ears of our nation’s roadways,” Truckers Against Trafficking Coalition official Ester Goetsch said. She told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that her group trains truckers to better identify possible victims of human trafficking. She said 31 states have contacted the coalition for training materials, which also include information for state patrol officers, motor vehicle enforcement and other law enforcement agencies on how to most effectively respond to incidents of human trafficking. The group also has a tractor-trailer that travels across the country to educate truckers and the public on the realities of domestic sex trafficking by showcasing artifacts from cases.

The House bills, all passed by wide margins, now need Senate approval.

One of the House bills, sponsored by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., would require the Department of Labor to train employees to recognize and respond to the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain.

“In the course of inspecting workplaces for potential violations, Department of Labor employees often have a front line view to identify patterns of labor exploitation. Providing these employees with the proper training to detect and respond to the signs of human trafficking is an important part of the larger comprehensive effort to eradicate this unthinkable crime,” Walberg said.

Missouri Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler;s bill would law enforcement agencies to compete for federal funding to develop and carry out programs that fight sex trafficking demand. Demand reduction programs include undercover female police officers posing as prostitutes to capture buyers seeking to exploit these victims. The average support team consists of about six officers for each decoy. Police may also post decoy advertisements online, and set up reverse stings at a hotel or apartment.

Another Republican, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, sponsored a bill to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which provides programs and grants to assist human trafficking victims and requires traffickers to pay for care for their victims.