A truck driver in Missouri helped rescue a woman who was sex trafficked after noticing multiple red flags during a highway encounter, the Columbia Tribune reported Sunday.
The truck driver, who chose to stay anonymous, said a man approached him May 19 at the Midway Truck Stop, a restaurant with a motel and other services frequented by truck drivers along I-70, in Columbia, the outlet reported.
How can a person look out for the signs of human trafficking? In most cases, if you have a gut feeling about something, trust it, Nanette Ward said. https://t.co/5i62hr9DyP
— Columbia Tribune (@columbiatribune) May 30, 2021
The man offered the truck driver a “good time,” pointing to a young woman with a scared expression on her face and matted hair, but the truck driver reportedly said he wasn’t interested.
The truck driver suspected that the woman was not there willingly and approached her to give him his contact information in case she wanted to escape the situation she appeared to be in.
“She looked like she was not wanting to do what he wanted her to do,” the truck driver said, according to Columbia Daily Tribune. “I could tell she didn’t want to be where she was at.”
The woman called him two days after the encounter. The truck driver picked her up and started reaching out to potential caretakers who could provide the woman with safety and treatment. He was connected with Nanette Ward, an advocate with Stop Human Trafficking Coalition of Central Missouri, who immediately connected with the woman.
Truck stops are considered an ideal venue for sex traffickers to exploit victims without attracting attention to the activity, since truck stops are usually remote and have transient customers, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Traffickers force victims to engage in commercial sex at truck stops between cities, often with the expectation that male truckers and travelers will be willing to pay for commercial sex. Runaway and homeless youth are often targeted, as well as adult women in vulnerable situations, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
The truck driver recognized that these types of encounters with sex trafficing victims are regular occurrences, according to Columbia Daily Tribune.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what is going on,” he said.
After being connected with the Stop Human Trafficking Coalition of Central Missouri, the woman appeared to be relieved that she escaped her trafficker.
“She is starting to eat. She really is all smiles. She is very grateful that she got away. She has a big heart,” he told Columbia Daily Tribune.
The woman doesn’t have direct ties to the central Missouri area, Ward said, but is a candidate for a long-term recovery residential home for sex trafficking survivors, a program that lasts anywhere from one to two years.
Ward said the woman appeared eager to participate in the program. Ward is assessing the trafficking survivor’s medical needs and mental health needs in the meantime.
“She right away was very interested and very willing to consider. We actually already did an application for one of them and are waiting to hear,” she said.
Ward said one of the best ways people can stay vigilant for human trafficking victims is by relying on their gut feeling — if something doesn’t feel right, it “probably isn’t,” she told Columbia Daily Tribune.
If it’s possible to talk to a potential human trafficking victim in a safe environment, such as a restroom, the individual should try to, Ward added. Witnesses should also focus on details of a suspicious encounter so that they can detail it to authorities.
The truck driver chose to stay anonymous to protect the woman, himself and his family, and said that he did what any person should have done in the situation he was in.
“I don’t want any medals, publicity, none of that,” he said, according to Columbia Daily Tribune. “I just did what any person should do.”
In March, perceptive hospital staff at a hospital in Kentucky helped reunite a missing woman with her family after the staff sensed she could have been a victim of human trafficking. (RELATED: Hospital Staff Who Suspected Patient Was Human Trafficking Victim Help Reunite Her With Family)