DES MOINES, Iowa -- Around 240,000 kids ride Iowa school buses each day. Their safety is a school bus driver's number one priority. "They're our kids when they are on the bus. It's a huge responsibility but it is a great reward," said Robin Witt, Safety and Training Specialist with the Des Moines Public School District. Safety is not always guaranteed beyond the school bus walls. Witt said, "We are not just bus drivers." The United Nations International Children's Fund estimates up to half of all human trafficking victims may be children something the Iowa Department of Transportation has spent years cracking down on. Dave Lorenzen, Chief of Motor Vehicle Enforcement said, "Unfortunately we have seen human trafficking cases that can be as young as 10,11,and 12 years old."
The alarming trend caused the Iowa Department of Education to take action and make Iowa the first state to require human trafficking training for all school bus drivers. "This training is going to help make everybody just be more alert," said Witt.
Drivers will watch videos, read literature and even be quizzed on signs to spot human trafficking. "These bus drivers see these kids every day and they can tell if there is something not going right," said Chief Lorenzen.
Not all victims go missing entirely. Drivers will be trained on looking for changes in clothing or behavior, unexplained gifts, bruises and unexpected absences from school. Lorenzen said, "We know it occurs here. We do receive info from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center."
Wisconsin authorities recently arrested a man named Jake Patterson who allegedly abducted 13-year-old Jayme Closs for three months and killed both her parents. Authorities said Patterson came up with the idea after spotting the teen get off a school bus near her home. Witt says they are no stranger to unusual interactions with strangers during their route. She said, "We do see cars follow us at times and we will call in to dispatch and say hey there`s a car following us."
Another set of eyes behind the wheel, helping to keep Iowa children safe. Witt said, "One kid getting hurt is too many. If we can get more to be saved and helped then that`s even better."
On Thursday, Governor Kim Reynolds is expected to sign a proclamation declaring the month of January slavery and human trafficking prevention and awareness month.