In December 2016, Keith Avila, an Uber driver based in Sacramento, California, picked up three passengers – two women and one teen girl – and drove them to their specified destination: a Holiday Inn in Elk Grove. On the way over, Avila listened in to the conversation and discovered that the 16-year-old girl was being sold into the sex trafficking industry. He dropped off his passengers and called the police, ultimately saving the young girl’s life.
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are approximately 25M human trafficking victims globally, a number that Uber hopes to reduce significantly by launching a new initiative to provide education and promote awareness to all driver-partners across the nation.
As society becomes more and more technologically advanced, it’s becoming easier to buy and sell victims online. Traffickers utilize multiple forms of transportation to deliver victims to their clients. With the rising popularity of app-based ride services, Uber believes that it is its duty to enlist drivers to help put a stop to human trafficking.
Uber is the first and only on-demand company to sign The Code, promising to protect children from trafficking. Uber has been working alongside the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, ECPAT-USA and The McCain Institute in order to develop resources that will help train U.S. drivers to identify and report suspected cases of human trafficking.
“[Uber] [d]rivers are uniquely positioned to help identify and ultimately prevent human trafficking,” wrote Tracey Breeden, Uber Safety Communications Lead and a former police detective. Drivers are able to call or text the hotline at any time.
Uber’s new effort to promote the National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by their newest partner Polaris, provides drivers a convenient resource to safely and proactively report questionable behavior that could potentially be related to trafficking cases. The hotline number is available to drivers via the Uber app alongside information about recognizing red flags.
“I am so pleased that Uber is informing its drivers in the U.S. about the warning signs of trafficking and that we are seeing a tangible effect of these efforts in victims being rescued and traffickers arrested,” Cindy McCain of The McCain Institute Human Trafficking Advisory Council said of Uber’s commitment to the initiative.
Avila was the recipient of the 2017 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Hope Award for his actions that lead to the arrest of three traffickers. The 16-year-old victim was reunited with her family and Avila’s story has inspired others to be more aware of situations that might be unfolding in the backseat of their cars. Drivers all over the country have been credited with interference in sex trafficking scenarios and many lives have been saved due to the driver’s ability to react responsibly and make accurate judgments.
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