Transit spotlights fight against human trafficking in January

Jan. 17, 2023
Transit agencies are joining the global effort to bring awareness to the problem and ensure the industry supports efforts to combat modern slavery.

January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the United States, where government along with private and public partners bring awareness to modern slavery.

The International Labour Organization, Walk Free and International Organization for Migration estimate there are 49.6 million people in modern slavery on any given day, which translates to one out of every 150 people in the world. The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline reported there were 10,360 cases identified in 2021 that involved more than 16,700 victims.

Those numbers don’t provide a full assessment of the problem, according to Polaris Project, which operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Unfortunately, modern slavery depends on transportation systems for recruitment of potential victims to transporting those victims. To help fight against this, Polaris Project recommends the following for transportation providers:

  • Training staff on how to identify/respond to human trafficking
  • Display the National Human Trafficking Hotline number in all modes
  • Make prevention-based materials available for those individuals who may be traveling into trafficking situations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking initiative concentrates on five key areas:

  1. Getting more public, private and cross-modal leaders to focus on problem of human trafficking
  2. Creating and implementing training protocols
  3. Developing policy to support the initiative
  4. Increasing public awareness and outreach
  5. Promoting information sharing and analysis

On Jan. 18, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will host a webinar aimed at preventing human trafficking in Tribal communities. The webinar will explore how modern slavery impacts American Indian/Alaskan Native populations, as well as the role transit agencies can plan in prevention. FTA has also produced a video addressing human trafficking on public transportation.

Transit agencies in action

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) said it is retraining all of its employees to spot the signs of human trafficking and how to report it, an effort supported in part with a $350,000 grant from FTA. The transit authority says every incoming new employee receives the training, and all employees will receive renewed training periodically. Additionally, Santa Clara VTA encourages passengers and the public to download its VTAlerts app on mobile devices, which allows reports of suspected human trafficking, as well as other crimes or concerns to be made discretely.

“This initiative will be built into our framework,” said VTA General Manger andCEO Carolyn Gonot. “Our employees are trained to look for the signs, and we hope our riding public will get the message human trafficking happens everywhere and help us to stop it.”

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has been finding ways to combat human trafficking for many years, including the installation of bilingual signage providing the National Human Trafficking Hotline number, adding a human trafficking report category within its SEPTA Transit Watch app, joining other transit leaders in signing the Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking Pledge and, in 2023, the agency is partnering with ENON Tabernacle Baptist Church and the Salvation Army Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware to raise awareness.

In Vancouver, Wash., C-TRAN will display posters on every bus to connect people with information on how to get help or confidentially report suspicious activity.

“At C-TRAN, we believe that everyone who uses public transportation should be able to travel freely and safely,” said C-TRAN CEO Shawn M. Donaghy. “This small step can make a big difference to raise awareness of the resources that are available to people who are being forced into dangerous situations.”

San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD) hosted its first Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention workshop on Jan. 11.

"We are committed to creating a safe and secure environment for our employees, passengers and community. This event provided RTD staff with the critical information they need to identify signs of human trafficking and help reduce cases and it is a good first step," said RTD CEO Alex Clifford. "We must continue to work together to help prevent human trafficking from happening in our community."

The presentations featured topics on prevention methods, identifying victims of human trafficking, understanding exploitation dynamics and recognizing indicators of possible victimization or recruitment into trafficking situations. Attendees also learned how to report instances of potential trafficking and the importance of online safety through social media awareness.


Need help?

United States:

1 (888) 373-7888

National Human Trafficking Hotline

SMS: 233733 (Text "HELP" or "INFO")

Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week

Languages: English, Spanish and 200 more languages



1 (833) 900-1010

Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline

Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week

Languages: English, French, more than 200 languages total


About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.