Spring 2014

Dark Passages

Human trafficking is among our kind's oldest and darkest pursuits. Wichita State wields weapons to combat it.


illustration of hands tiedWichita State's Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – with its three far-wheeling academic departments: humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics – offers study and research into some of the most refulgent and uplifting of human enterprises. It also treats with some of the darkest.

"Human trafficking is ancient," says Keith Pickus, a scholar in modern European, German and Jewish history with extensive teaching experience in the area of Holocaust history; interim dean of the WSU College of Health Professions; and director of operations at Fairmount College's Center for Combating Human Trafficking (CCHT), which received Kansas Board of Regents' approval on Feb. 13, 2013. "Human trafficking has been with us as long as human beings have occupied the Earth."

Trafficking in physical (labor) and sexual slavery has snaked up through unrecorded human history, spewing its venom through the underbelly of classical Greek and Roman civilizations, through medieval times and the dire centuries of the African slave trade, through the 20th century and the Japanese Imperial Army's practice of forcing women and girls into prostitution as "comfort women" during World War II – up through to the human story behind any one of today's lurid headlines. Here are three examples from a Google search that generated a "human trafficking headlines" list in 0.33 seconds: "Nuns, Backed by Pope, Warn of Human Trafficking at the World Cup," "The 21st-Century Slave Trade" and "Human Trafficking: A Growing Criminal Market in the U.S." Three headlines from a list of "about 3,850,000."

Human trafficking is the world's fastest growing international crime. Yet because of its covert and illegal nature, gathering statistics on the scope of the problem is difficult. It seems sure, though, says Karen Countryman-Roswurm '05/06/12, an assistant professor of social work at WSU and the founding executive director of the CCHT, that the dark practices of physical and sexual slavery are primary criminal enterprises. According to a number of credible sources, including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, trafficking in humans is the second largest source of illegal income worldwide, behind drugs trafficking and just ahead of arms trafficking. In terms of the number of individual victims and survivors, human trafficking may indeed surpass the illegal arms and illicit drug trade.

Wichita State's CCHT carries a multifaceted approach to educating about human 
trafficking. Training for 
professionals, courses for credit, and consulting with many constituencies are among the center's robust agenda. The impact of human trafficking on individuals, and collectively on our communities and entire society, demand an array of interventions in political, criminal, and social service systems.

Ron Matson

"Human trafficking is a very real and devastating form of abuse that affects women, men and children from all walks of life," Countryman-Roswurm says during a conversation in her fifth-floor office in Lindquist Hall, where a big, cardboard box – newly delivered – sits unopened. A licensed master social worker who holds a doctorate in psychology, she has focused her considerable will and resolve on serving marginalized children, youth and families for well over a decade now.

"Karen has absolute determination in helping homeless, runaway and throwaway youth, particularly those who are victims of sex trafficking," says James Rhatigan, WSU emeritus dean of student affairs who serves the WSU Foundation as a consultant. Rhatigan, a mentor to many Wichita State alumni and former students, adds that Countryman-Roswurm's single-minded purposefulness has expanded through the years from a focus on rescue to also include the wider realms of prevention, evaluation, training, and public policy development.

"With her total focus, Karen is unimpressed with barriers," Rhatigan adds. "She is out to make our entire society a safer, more nurturing one for victims and survivors of human trafficking – that is the broad objective behind the founding of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at WSU."

Four people in particular have been key in establishing the center: Countryman-Roswurm, Pickus, Rhatigan and Ron Matson, a noted sociologist who has taught at WSU since 1979 and now serves as interim dean of Fairmount College, a position he will hold through the 2014-15 academic year. Among Matson's research interests is gendered violence in the context of schools and dating relationships; he works in the anti-violence movement and has served on a number of boards of directors for agencies serving youth and victims of violence.

"Karen," Matson says, "has the unique ability to express the crisis being created by the manipulation and enslavement of different populations. She is at once passionate and scientific, respectful and demanding, and always in pursuit of social justice. Through this unique expression, she has become a national leader in the field of combating human trafficking."

Currently in the thick of researching, writing and preparing for publication no fewer than five scholarly works, including the research article "Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Assessing and Reducing Risk" for the Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, Countryman-Roswurm works hard to bridge the gap between direct practice, research and public policy. Since 2006, she has traveled the country to educate, facilitating hundreds of training sessions to help social service providers better assist survivors of domestic sexual exploitation. She has delivered keynote speeches and led innumerable sessions at national conventions of police, prosecutors, social workers and federal investigators. She has spoken to policy-makers in Topeka, Kan., and Washington, D.C.

She wants nothing short of helping change society's language, conception of and response to the human trafficking survivors she is passionate about empowering. "Historically," she says, "domestic minor sex trafficking has been inaccurately regarded as teen prostitution. Children and youth victimized in human trafficking are not social outcasts or criminals. They are our neighbors and friends, our nieces and nephews, and children and grandchildren who have been or who are now being mentally, physically, and sexually abused."

Recognized both nationally and internationally for her work with homeless, runaway and throwaway youth, Countryman-Roswurm has been quoted in and written for the Huffington Post, among many other news media, and, in August 2013, was a featured expert – "a true pioneer in the anti-trafficking movement," according to event materials – in Cambridge University's TEDx event with its theme of "The Power of Resilience."

Resilience is surely one of Countryman-Roswurm's favorite words, along with prosperity, as in a successful, flourishing, thriving condition – and social justice. Her conversation is replete with these words. "Karen has a passion for her work, fundamentally," Pickus says. "She is wholeheartedly engaged in trying to make the world a better place."

Rhatigan notes, "Karen has a thorough knowledge of her work that has grown out of her life experience." In 1994, Karen's mother shot herself to death, leaving behind a suicide note for her 13-year-old daughter. After a year in foster care, Karen ran away and spent the next two years on the streets of Wichita. What she witnessed and experienced during her days as a runaway inform her life's work. She began her professional career at the Wichita Children's Home as a street outreach worker in 1998. The scope of her outreach grew in 2005 when she founded the Anti-Trafficking/Anti-Sexual Exploitation Roundtable for Community Action, for which she organizes multidisciplinary collaborative efforts to prevent, intervene and reduce domestic sexual exploitation – and her outreach has expanded yet further in her role as founding director of the CCHT.

"Wichita State's CCHT," Matson says, "carries a multifaceted approach to educating about human trafficking. Training for professionals, courses for credit, and consulting with many constituencies are among the center's robust agenda. The impact of human trafficking on individuals, and collectively on our communities and entire society, demand an array of interventions in political, criminal, and social service systems."

In addition to Countryman-Roswurm and Pickus, who was serving as WSU's interim provost at the time of the center's inception, CCHT has a third staff member, Bailey Patton '13, who works as community outreach and volunteer coordinator. A licensed master social worker, she has experience as a therapist for youth and adolescents who have experienced childhood trauma. She also has experience with anti-trafficking research and is co-author of "The Journey to Oz: How Practice, Research, and Law Have Been Used to Abolish Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking in Kansas," an article she wrote with Countryman-Roswurm.

In Sedgwick County alone, Countryman-Roswurm roughly calculates that hundreds of children and youth are victims of sex trafficking each year. She stresses that exact estimates are "elusive due to the covert and transient nature of the exploitation." Nonetheless, it's sadly clear that in the United States, sex trafficking earns billions of dollars for pimps and other criminals, and victimizes somewhere between 244,000 and 325,000 children annually. Globally, some 600,000-800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Of that number, approximately 80 percent are women and girls; 50 percent are minors, according to the U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons 2007 Report.

A relentless advocate for the individual behind the numbers and beyond the stereotypes of those lost in human trafficking's dark passages, Countryman-Roswurm says, "These are human beings. They are victims, survivors. We need to listen to them tell us what they need to reach prosperity – they are the experts in their own lives." She offers an example, the story of one young woman, an illegal immigrant, pregnant, a survivor of sex trafficking who has no family support, no community connections, no high school education, little hope for the future. But the 18-year-old reaches out to Countryman-Roswurm, whose work she had heard about, and asks for assistance with legal issues, access to medical care, and furthering her education. "We intervened, and she's already completed her high school education," Countryman-Roswurm reports. "We all have physical needs, social, spiritual – she knew what she needed. The thing is, she was in state custody for six years. What a failure on our part!"

Helping eliminate such systemic failures is an overarching goal of the CCHT now. Looking into the future, Pickus sees the center and its services "moving beyond the issue of human trafficking to encompass other social justice issues." Currently, CCHT staff work closely with the WSU Foundation, which raises private funds for the center's endeavors. A primary focus is offering more services to the community and state, either by hiring additional staff or bringing in campus partners to reach more people.

Countryman-Roswurm turns her attention to that unopened box sitting in her office. She opens it, looks inside, smiles and pulls out a T-shirt, a CCHT T-shirt with a compelling design and the words: ONE IS ONE TOO MANY.


Running Down a Dream

The Wichita State Shockers went to war for nothing short of the perfect season. They won every single one of their regular-season battles. They made history. They made Shocker Nation proud - even, perhaps especially, in the one bout they lost.

Dark Passages

Human trafficking is among our kind's oldest and darkest pursuits. Wichita State wields weapons to combat it.

The Right Balance

Preparing teachers for the classroom has always been the key to Wichita State's College of Education. Yet if that's all that comes to mind, you're behind the times. Today's CoEd is home to a wide range of departments. Sport Management is one, and Human Performance Studies is another.