A screenshot from the Newsy documentary of a female trucker behind the wheel. (Claire Molloy / Newsy)
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Female truck drivers reacted with a mix of outrage, sadness and frustration after Public Integrity and Scripps News published an investigation showing an alarming pattern of sexual violence in the trucking industry and the failure of companies to address it.

One former truck driver said she was raped by her trainer more than 10 years ago and that the company she worked for didn’t seem to care. Others who responded described similar stories of harassment and abuse behind the wheel.

“The sad thing is, most women I have met out here have a story about experiencing workplace violence,” a truck driver based in Georgia wrote on Facebook.

Their personal accounts reflect those of many women trying to break into the male-dominated trucking industry. Public Integrity and Scripps News’s three-month investigation and documentary identified more than 30 women learning to drive commercial trucks who said they were sexually abused by their trainers or co-drivers in the past 18 years at companies that run apprenticeships with the U.S. Department of Labor. 

Many of the women said the trucking companies punished them for reporting the complaints while allowing their attackers to keep driving and earning a living. Several women said they were fired and billed thousands of dollars for not working long enough to repay the cost of their training.

We want to hear from you: Tell us your story about sexual assault in the trucking industry.

In response to our reporting, a California law enforcement agency said that it opened an investigation into the sexual assault reported by one of the women interviewed for the project. A senator from Kansas has urged the U.S. Department of Transportation’s advisory board for women in the trucking industry to focus on protecting female drivers from sexual violence. And the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration committed to improve safety for women learning to drive commercial trucks.

As part of the project, Scripps News interviewed Christina, who said she was raped and sexually assaulted by her co-driver in 2019 while driving for CRST, one of the nation’s largest trucking companies. We agreed to use an alias to describe her case because she’s worried about her safety. Despite reporting the rape to police and undergoing a forensic rape exam, law enforcement never arrested her co-driver, who is a convicted felon with a history of violence against women.

After Scripps News and Public Integrity began asking about Christina’s case, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department opened an investigation into one of the assaults she reported.

Nora Cassidy, a lawyer based in California, said Christina’s story described workforce violence that is familiar to many women truck drivers.

“Christina’s story, and particularly the way that she fell through the cracks created by the joint failure of law enforcement, the trucking industry, and the federal government to meaningfully address this epidemic, was eerily similar to [other clients’],” she wrote in an email to Scripps News. “I really appreciate all the work that you and your team did to raise awareness of this issue.”

Lawyers for CRST have said that the company thoroughly investigates sexual assault complaints and denies retaliating against women who report it.

A former truck driver who said she was raped by her trainer more than 10 years ago said she was disheartened to see that the problem continues.

“I felt and still feel like I was treated like a prostitute or worse,” she wrote in response to the article posted in a Facebook group for women truck drivers. “The rapist who was employed by the company had NO INTENTION of training me. Sad to hear it’s still happening.”

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Attacked behind the wheel

An investigation by Public Integrity and Newsy found a disturbing pattern of workplace violence in an industry that has tried to recruit more women but failed to protect them from sexual assault.

Angela Baum, a truck driver based in Missouri, expressed mixed emotions in response to the documentary. On one hand, it was a relief to know she was not alone, she wrote on Facebook.

“But even sadder was how many of us female drivers have faced this,” wrote Baum, who was interviewed for the documentary.

Reporting by Public Integrity and Scripps News showed that the U.S. departments of Labor and Transportation have known about the problem for years, but have failed to punish trucking companies with a history of sexual assault complaints.

In December, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of the Transportation Department, held its first advisory board meeting for women in the trucking industry, which was mandated by the Inflation Reduction Act. The board is tasked with identifying barriers that keep women out of the trucking industry.

The advisory board’s top priority should be to ensure that women drivers are safe, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said in response to the investigation. 

“These recent reports of horrific sexual assault and harassment demonstrate that is not the case for many female truckers,” Moran, a Kansas Republican, wrote in an email to Scripps News. “The establishment of the advisory board was a first step, and it is my expectation that the board will work to create a safe, supportive environment for women truckers.”

Moran pushed Congress to create the advisory board as part of the new law, which included incentives for people to start their own trucking companies.

A spokesperson for the FMCSA said in a statement that there is “no acceptable number of incidents of harassment and violence against women,” and that the agency is committed to dedicating its time and resources to working with the trucking industry, unions, stakeholders, agencies, and Congress to improve the safety for women in trucking.

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Alexia Fernández Campbell is a senior investigative reporter at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington,...