ANKENY, Iowa — School might be out for the weekend, but school bus drivers are in the classroom learning the signs of human trafficking.
“It’s sad our society has went this way, yes it is,” said instructor Joe Sullivan.
As sad as it is, human trafficking is all too real of a concern. It can happen at any age, in any state and in any town. Iowa is helping lead the charge against trafficking by being the first state to require all school bus drivers to learn the signs of human trafficking.
“It clicks a light bulb on for some of these people. It makes them realize that something maybe is not right,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan has been in transportation for 30 years. He’s teaching the class at DMACC and tells other drivers to be on the lookout for bruises, unexplained gifts, unpredictable emotions, and unfamiliar cars following the bus.
According to the Polaris Project, a non-profit fighting trafficking, 44 percent of survivors they spoke with say they were trafficked under the age of 17. People in the class like Doug Neppl say bus drivers are often the first line of defense.
“Our drivers are the first person the student comes in contact with in the morning and the last person they come in contact with at the end of the day. Our people, we care about each individual child we put on our bus and take off our bus that we transport every day,” said Neppl.
The International Labour Organization estimates that a little over 40 million people are victims of either forced labor or sex trafficking worldwide, and a quarter of those victims are children. Those taking the class say they will be vigilant because they know Iowa is not immune to these kinds of crimes.
“This is something that can happen. It can happen outside your front door or down the block. It can happen anywhere nowadays,” said Neppl.
If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.