One of the things that makes potential students apprehensive about training is being on a truck for long hours, days, or weeks with a total stranger. Over the road trucks are basically rolling closets with bunk beds that truckers furnish with the conveniences of home. Whether going through a local CDL school or a company sponsored program, at some point you will most likely be spending 24/7 in a truck with a trainer or mentor. Differences in personal habits, hygiene, driving styles, music tastes, humor and religious and political beliefs can all make life miserable on the road.
Often for women, an initial thought is “What if I have to drive with a man? What if he's a pervert?” My reaction to such questions is, what if he is an awesome and respectful guy you might have passed up for a miserable, obnoxious woman? What if he possesses better teaching skills than a woman, but you are too sexist to accept him?
This usually makes women blink. People automatically fear the unknown and assume something negative. Get over the negative thinking in every aspect of your life, or you won't last in trucking very long.
As a non-smoking, 41 year-old woman entering company sponsored training, I was focused on learning. Sexual harassment, men, smoking or non-smoking trainers were all very far from my mind. I wanted my CDL, and I wanted to disprove everyone who doubted me. When I met a trainer at the company who already had a student, I tried to pump him for as much information as I could.
Out of nowhere, the man propositioned me and stroked my leg. I looked him in the eyes, turned him down and tried to continue on the trucking topics. When the man persisted, I recorded the things he said on my phone and turned it over to my company.
At one point he tried to intimidate me to not report him. Yeah, right. This man was terminated, and I was placed with a great male trainer who was a smoker. I did not threaten to sue anyone. I did not break down emotionally. I simply continued on toward my goal and I trusted the company to handle the issue. They did.
Had I given the first man a second thought, I would be giving him power over my life. Power over my mental well-being as well as allowing him to affect my career and life. Why would I allow a stranger to possess the power to mess up my mind or job for years to come....over a lousy few minutes of unwelcome advances?
I also did not allow the experience with the first man to taint my expectations of the second. Thank goodness I didn't. That instructor was incredible and patient. With my permit, we drove almost 10,000 miles in three weeks. It was an adrenaline rush to be driving that big rig, and the information he gave me was invaluable.
Had I refused to go with a man, I may not have found such a wealth of knowledge or compassion. He understood my frustrations and tried to help me get over the hurdles of learning to drive that manual with the double clutch. In addition, I never once felt uncomfortable with him in a sexual way. If we had to change our clothes on the truck, he did so on the bottom bunk and I did on the top bunk. I would holler down, “Okay, I'm ready. Are you?” It is called common courtesy and respect.
I'm a woman who still gets her monthly cycles, and he had no problem when I stopped the truck a little more often during that time. He just seemed to know the circumstances without me telling him, and he offered me ibuprofen and Pepto-Bismol without other comments. He then suggested we stop and shower. It wasn't offensive at all, but very caring. At one point he said, “You can talk to me about things. It's my job to make your learning experience easier.” Wow! What a guy! But I bet there are women out there who would flip out that he insinuated my cycle was making me ill.
If you are sexually harrassed in training:
Too often in our litigious society people overreact to the slightest gesture and start threatening jail or lawsuits. The sensitive nature of the subject makes pulses race, but losing your temper does nothing to help your case. It may make you appear aggressive or people may think you're exaggerating, especially if you cannot provide proof of your allegations. Be accurate about the situation and have realistic expectations. There is a difference between rape, groping, and telling a dirty joke. Do you really want a man (or woman) to be terminated for telling an inappropriate joke? Did that joke permanently affect your life the way a complaint could affect his?
If you find yourself uncomfortable on a truck for any reason, contact dispatch or security. If a man grabs you, strokes you while you are asleep, or touches you in any way you find inappropriate you must first tell him to stop. Then you need to get off that truck.
I read a lawsuit against one of the mega carriers where a woman stated “...during the entire training period, the man groped me while I was laying in bed.” WHAT? After that first touch I would have told him, “Touch me again, and I'll kick you through your own windshield.” I have the calf muscles to do it too. I then would have written on the Qualcomm “Please help! Trainer is a pervert who is groping me and making this a hostile working environment. Please get me a trainer who will not violate my womanly parts.”
Putting it in writing is documentation - whether pertaining to your training or weather delays - always use the Qualcomm. I'd bet you $100 that truck would be ordered to stop at the next truck stop where another driver could pick me up. The longer you stay on a truck where you are being harassed, the harder it will be for the company to believe you. If something was so terrible, so devastating, then why did it take 3 months to come forward? And still you have no proof of video or voice recordings via a cell phone?
One article stated that although the female trainee encountered other male and female drivers from her company at truck stops and customers, she was afraid to tell of the abuse she suffered. She claimed the trainer smacked her legs and back side so hard it left welts and hand prints. Yet, while driving through her terminal at night, she didn't bother telling the mechanics because she didn't think they had any power to do anything. She was wrong, so wrong.
Men have an innate nature to protect women. Had she shown someone her welts, she would have been removed from the truck. The police would have been called, and that man probably arrested and terminated. She never told anyone, yet she is still holding the company accountable. She also assumed she would be fired as a trouble maker. Wrong again.
I know some will read this and say, “Well, victims of abuse have trouble coming forward. They are ashamed and embarrassed.” I can understand a battered wife with no money and three kids finding it difficult to leave the situation. But this is not a relationship, this is a business endeavor. The woman has no obligation to the trainer, or even the company. She does have an obligation to protect herself, and by staying in the situation, she failed to protect herself.
Heck, I know my company would have paid for a rental car for me to drive back to the terminal in that situation. I still read that article on occasion and think, “Why didn't she use her phone in the restroom where he could not go? There is no way any truck stop would allow him in the Ladies' room. She could easily have made herself safe in there until dispatch took care of things.” Not only did she make no attempts to resolve the situation, but she never afforded the company the chance to do so. But years later, she still blames them and is promoting it all over the internet. Is that justice?
The truth is that many male trainers are more afraid of women than the women are of them. The laws regarding sexual harassment have become so skewed, anyone can be charged with anything without intending any offense, or knowing they did.
Example: I'm shopping at Walmart and pass two drivers from my company. They do not even realize I am there, but I overhear their sexual conversation. I can then go to my company complaining of sexual harassment. Isn't that ridiculous? That is the kind of situation that devalues true and serious cases of harassment.
Another statement I found online was, “He once stood up from his bunk and glanced at me on the top bunk.” Once. Wow, he glanced - once. Some women can also be vindictive, so they could not only make false accusations, but could easily call the man's wife, post allegations on social media and totally ruin his reputation and family - all without any proof.
Furthermore, some women see lawsuits against large companies as meal tickets, and they try to tempt the men into making advances. I witnessed this myself when a woman in cut off shorts filled a bucket with soap and water then leaned over the trainer's truck slowly soaping it and flirting. The water splashed on her shirt, making it stick to her. He said nothing and walked away. And it's the women who are worried about being assigned a male trainer?
The great male trainers want women to report the offensive, inappropriate ones because they make all trainers look bad. The great trucking companies want students to report bad and offensive trainers to better their own employee rolls and protect the company image.
No one is going to get fired for harassment allegations unless they are false claims. The Whistleblower law protects the accuser. Requiring proof protects the accused. It's been two and a half years since I started my trucking journey, and now I am a trainer myself. One of the first classes I had to take was a three hour seminar on sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, as well as how to deal with students in a professional manner.
Next was an educational video and lecture called Truckers Against Trafficking which promotes awareness of the sex slave industry and how to contact the authorities to save the women and children. And I am supposed to believe trucking companies do not care about women? It is a man at my company who has championed this cause, and I am supposed to believe all men are scum?
Much of my advice and tips that I hand down my students, as well as rookie drivers I unofficially mentor, came from that great male trainer. Countless times have I told others how to handle downgrades or downshifting the way he taught me. Yesterday one of my good friends said to me, “I'm man enough to admit I learned most of what I know about trucking from a woman.” He meant me, and it made me feel great. He sounds really sexist doesn't he? Could he have said that if I hadn't learn all I did from that male trainer?
Women need to be smart and report things accurately and immediately. They need to understand to what degree something can be tolerated. If the trainer told a dirty joke once, then realized you were uncomfortable and never did it again, is that worth mentioning to dispatch?
Women need to decide, “Is this something I can live with for another two weeks until I am solo, or is this guy so bad he should never have a woman on his truck again?” They need to get this “male vs female” concept out of their heads, because in my experience, it isn't in the men's heads at all. If I kept that adversarial viewpoint, I probably would have quit trucking and gone bankrupt instead of paying off almost $50,000 in debt the past two years. I wouldn't have the skills I do to get nearly any trucking job I want now. And I would be miserable.
Finally, if you are a woman who is intent on refusing a male trainer, I ask you this: What if you get assigned a lesbian? Then what? Would you accept a homosexual man, but not a homosexual woman? Will you refuse a lesbian based on sexual orientation, and refuse a male based on gender? Sounds a little sexist and bigoted, doesn't it? Sounds like the kind of thing you don't want happening to you.
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