CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — One of the founders of Truckers Against Trafficking is spreading the word about her organization, which encourages professional drivers to fight human trafficking.
"Those drivers are the eyes and ears of the state of Texas," said Texas Attorney General's Office Chief Prosecutor for Human Trafficking Kirsta Leeburg Melton. "There are more professional drivers than there are law enforcement. They go places and they see victims that no one else sees."
Melton addressed the National Association of Publicly-Funded Truck Driving Schools' regional conference at Del Mar College's West Campus on Thursday. She encouraged the driving instructors in attendance from all across the Texas region to encourage their students to join her organization by watching a video about trafficking and taking a test.
"If they understand the signs to look for, then they can identify a trafficking victim," she said. "They can make a call to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and they can save a life."
Melton put an estimate of the number of human trafficking victims in Texas at 313,000. She said trafficking minors, alone, costs the state $6.6 billion. Since she helped start Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) in 2009, Melton said truckers who are members of her organization are responsible for the identification of 1,186 victims.
"That's powerful," she said. "People getting rescued, lives being changed, culture being changed -- that's what this group of people in this room are here to do today when it comes to the issue of human trafficking."
A truck-driving instructor at the conference from Harlingen agrees with TAT that truckers can make a difference.
"(Truck drivers) are out there 24/7, and we see a lot of stuff that goes on that the public doesn't," Juan Hernandez said. "We can spread the word."
That's what Melton is doing, and a transportation services instructor at Del Mar is listening.
"The presentation was very informative," Juan Soto said. "It gives us something to take back to our students and let them realize, 'Hey, it is something that is happening in our state and in our country.' "
You can access the Truckers Against Trafficking website by clicking here. It includes resources for a wide variety of aspects of human trafficking.