The image on vigilantetrucker.com is disconcerting and heart-breaking: a stark black and white picture of two women in shackles, their faces hidden and their palms outstretched. Written on their palms is both a plea and a challenge: Do You See Me?
The Vigilante Truckers are an organization led by Bo Quickel, and operating in the Southeastern states. The group’s mission is simple: to educate truckers on the horrors of sex trafficking and empower drivers to do something about it.
Traditionally, sex workers have been a common sight at truck stops and rest areas, so much so the Vigilante Truckers site claims truck drivers make up sixty percent of the demand for trafficked victims. Quickel and his group are changing that, one trucker at a time, by explaining what’s really happening when a girl knocks on a cab door.
When men pay for sex they assume the woman involved profits. Quickel reframes that perception by pointing out the woman rarely sees any of the money—she’s completely at the mercy of her pimp, who takes the money and maintains control over her through fear and abuse. Quickel put it this way in an interview with WLTX 19: “What I try to do is get a driver to understand he is not paying money for sex. He’s paying [the pimp] for rape.”
Quickel sees truckers as a powerful force capable of saving sex trafficking victims. In addition to education, the Vigilante Truckers provide a smartphone app truckers can use to take photos of sex trafficking. The photos upload to a database, which uses facial recognition software to identify the women, an important step in rescuing them from their pimps. Photos of pimps are handed over to law enforcement.
According to the FBI, over 1,000 truckers have used the Vigilante Trucker’s hotline to report sex trafficking. Quickel himself has paid out-of-pocket to wrap eight of his trucks with educational messages about sex trafficking, “billboards” he parks at truck stops throughout the area.
The motto of the Vigilante Truckers is “Protector or Predator?” It’s an evocative question asking truckers to make their own decisions to oppose sex trafficking, and it seems to be working. Truckers are by and large good-hearted people who want to do what’s right. Quickel’s giving us the opportunity to do just that.