How Sedgwick County hung a child victim out to dry

When then thirteen-year-old human trafficking victim Kristin was first rescued in Wichita in 2011, the community was outraged that something like this could be happening right under our noses.

A non-profit, ICT SOS, was formed because of Kristin’s story, and has raised money for years using that story. But this past September, Kristin was arrested on her 18th birthday, and charged with crimes related to human trafficking.

In a police affidavit, a Wichita Police detective states that Kristin, as a minor, was operating under the control of a pimp in July of 2015, and that she helped a 16-year-old girl earn money by having sex with men.

Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm, Executive Director of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University, has stated that Kristin was arrested and is being charged because she, Kristin, the human trafficking victim, stopped providing evidence to local law enforcement.

Dr. Roswurm says that the system has failed Kristin, a claim that Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett denies.

To recap, Kristin was rescued from human traffickers at the age of thirteen. Her story was then used to launch a non-profit organization which as recently as last week was still using Kristin’s story as an example of their success, despite knowing that she is sitting in jail.

Local law enforcement used Kristin to gain evidence against other human traffickers, and when Kristin decided she no longer wanted to be a pawn in this fight, she was cut-off, and ended up back in the hands of a human trafficker.

And now, she is being prosecuted for crimes that she committed against her will, as a minor, by the very people who used her to tout their own successes in combating human trafficking, because she decided she didn’t want to cooperate any further.

Dr. Roswurm, who is an expert on human trafficking, says that arresting people, while perhaps necessary, does not reduce the demand for human traffickers:

“My stomach hurts over some of the misinformation I am hearing. Demand reduction for the abuse and exploitation of women, men, girls and boys is not accomplished by facilitating surveillance and stings on those that are already vulnerable and marginalized. Does that work need to occur in an effort to identify situations of human trafficking–perhaps.

But let’s not be misled to believe this is demand reduction.

True demand reduction is done with primary prevention–addressing the things that occur within ourselves, our homes, our communities that create the context in which abuse and exploitation exists. What things can you change right now in your life that may be devaluing the life of another person? Consider actions you take that might inadvertently take advantage of an individual or a population based on gender, race, socio-economic status, life position, etc.

This is the adaptive work that we must all engage in! We all have something to contribute! It is difficult work. It will take significant time and intentionality. But I promise you, the labor of this work will not only prevent abuse, exploitation, human trafficking–it will enrich all of our lives, our marriages, the lives of our children, our community!”

– Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm, 2016 at WSU CCHT Conference

Dr. Roswurm is asking people to sign this petition urging the Governor to take action to protect Kristin:

“The intention of laws such as the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014, and the Kansas anti-trafficking legislation (Senate Substitute for House Bill No. 2034) is to protect and serve young girls like Kristen and LaTesha, not prosecute them.

“Rather than facing jail time, Kristen and LaTesha [LaTesha is another victim facing similar circumstances in Michigan] should be offered intentional, survivor-centered services to address the trauma they endured,” says Countryman-Roswurm, also an assistant professor in WSU’s School of Social Work. “Over the last two decades we have achieved an improved level of awareness regarding human trafficking. We have seen a shift in language, and we have written legislation. Now we must struggle to achieve a heightened level of awareness.”

Kristen’s victimization was first shared with the public in March 2011, when she was only 13. This encouraged an increase in human trafficking awareness, the development of social media interest groups and the raising of commodities. But specialized trauma-informed and survivor-centered responses were underutilized. 

Most subjugated to human trafficking, Countryman-Roswurm says, have suffered years of physical, mental and emotional abuse. In many cases, they have been coerced into committing crimes just to survive.

“The community as a whole must speak up, step forward and provide better,” says Countryman-Roswurm. “We must all consider how we might give of our time, talent and treasure to not just give a hand-out — meeting only a short-term technical need — but rather a hand-up — assisting in addressing the more adaptive challenges that kept them subjected to sexual exploitation. We need to consider the need for long-term housing, committed transformational relationships that last a life-time, paid internships and career practicum opportunities, and college scholarships.”

Dr. Roswurm will hold a protest outside the Sedgwick County Courthouse this Friday, March 18, at 4 pm, to demand justice for Kristin and other victims of human trafficking.

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