Former Runaway Now Directing Anti-Human Trafficking Program

The day after Valentine’s Day in 1994, a Wichita woman named Karen Countryman shot herself to death at her home, leaving a suicide note for her 13-year-old daughter. That daughter, also named Karen Countryman, ran away from foster care the next year and spent two years eluding police and social workers trying to rescue her. She slept on the couches of strangers and friends, completed her GED – and after she saw human trafficking on Wichita’s streets, she became a relentless advocate for human trafficking victims. From Wichita State University (WSU), she earned a Bachelor of Arts in social work in 2005, a master’s degree in 2006 (4.0 grade-point average) and a doctorate in psychology last year.

Now WSU is establishing a Center for Combating Human Trafficking, with Karen Countryman-Roswurm, as the executive director. The center will train police, prosecutors, medical providers, faith groups and others in how to combat trafficking. It will be an advocate for victims. It will try to reshape public policy on a national scale.

“She’s already one of the leading experts on human trafficking in the nation,” WSU’s Keith Pickus said of Countryman-Roswurm. “Not only does she have the theoretical and academic background, but her personal story is unique. No one in the country combines what she has.”

In Topeka, state legislators are debating an anti-human-trafficking bill. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who wrote much of it, said it was inspired and shaped in part by Countryman-Roswurm. “Hers is a remarkable American story of a person who was dealt a difficult hand and turned it into an inspiration for anyone who’s seen it,” Schmidt said. Senate Bill 61, if approved, will dramatically change how police, courts and social workers treat the victims of trafficking.

Everything happening now is long overdue, Countryman-Roswurm said. “I think it’s so easy for the general public to look at these circumstances that aren’t necessarily abduction and kidnapping cases and say, ‘Well, why are you in this situation, why don’t you leave?’ It’s because, what did I see on the streets? What did I see in street outreach? People are doing what they think they need to do to survive. They are acting out of hopelessness. Desperation. They are utterly alone. Choice? There never really is one.”

Learn more at Roy Wenzl’s The Wichita Eagle article: WSU setting up center to aid youths ensnared in human trafficking.

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