Truck stops and rest areas have become hotspots for human trafficking. Traffickers use freeways to transport victims from place to place. Stops along those routes often play host to sex trafficking, offering a steady stream of anonymous customers. From December of 2007 through August of 2011, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline received 141 hotline calls nationwide regarding truck stops. 95% of these cases involved sex trafficking, 61% of the victims being minors. In response, Polaris Project, in collaboration with Maryland Delegates Tom Hucker and Dana Stein, introduced HB 607 and HB 860. HB 607 the “Hotline Posting Bill,” would require owners of privately owned truck stops and bus stations as well as the 10 state- operated highway rest areas to post signs with the NHTRC hotline number in their restrooms. This number helps to protect minors from being exploited by people like Shelby Lewis, a Maryland pimp recently sentenced to twenty years in prison, and help them learn how to access to the services they need. HB 860 clarifies the definition of sexual abuse to explicitly state that allowing or encouraging a child to engage in prostitution or human trafficking is considered a form of sexual abuse.
In order to bring attention to this horrible crime and to get these crucial bills passed, we worked with partner organizations to engage our grassroots network and lobby state legislators. We participated in Shared Hope’s Maryland Lobby Day on February 15, 2012; we submitted written testimony in support of the bills; and eventually testified before the Maryland House Judiciary Committee and the House Economic Matters Committee. Getting the chance to stand up for something that we believe in was exhilarating and empowering.
Both of these bills ultimately passed through State Congress. A few weeks ago, we returned to Annapolis to attend the Governor’s bill signing ceremony for HB 860; and the signing ceremony for HB 607 was held on May 22. It is amazing to think that what was just an idea a few short months ago is now an actual state law which will helps protect victims of trafficking. For us, witnessing how hard work and dedicated advocates can implement lasting change and extend a lifeline to victims was a tremendously rewarding experience.