"Children and youth victimized in human trafficking are not social outcasts or criminals. Rather, they are our neighbors and friends, our nieces and nephews, and our children and grandchildren who have been or who are currently being mentally, physically, and sexually abused. And they don't need us standing around clicking our ruby red slippers or dreaming of Oz" ~ Karen Countryman-Roswurm
In the first homeless shelter I stayed at we were "farmed out" as labor. Feed a bum and you can work him all day. If he complains, who will listen? That truly was the case at Hollywood and Vine Recovery Center where I lived off and on in 1995. I screamed real loud about the madness, so did others, but no one would listen to a homeless person. Eventually the place was closed by the FBI. This week in Denver I was educated about "sales crews" using homeless kids as labor and sex trafficking of homeless youth. You can and meet two people stranded homeless by a magazine crew here.
Last week I spent an amazing eye-opening day with Wichita Children's Home (WHC). First they wanted to take me to lunch. Being candid, that often turns out to be the start of a dog and pony show, but the staff of WHC are beyond brilliant and we spent over an hour talking about cause and effect, and more importantly, real solutions to child and youth homelessness. That was just the start of my education.
I recorded this interview with Karen Countryman-Roswurm, LMSW, Therapist/Coordinator of Anti-Sexual Exploitation Service, who is considered an expert on this topic.
Human trafficking and sexual exploitation of youth is a very real crisis in America, yet most of the funding to fight it goes to organizations that deal with international trafficking. Wichita is one of the largest originating cities for child trafficking in America -- children are brought in there and then transported to other areas of the country.
Like it or not, we are all affected by this crisis. This is such an important conversation that rarely gets talked about. I asked Karen to write a little something to go along with this video.
Kansas Human Trafficking and the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth, by Karen Countryman-Roswurm, LMSW
Though perhaps shattering the mental image held by many, Kansas is not the picturesque farmland portrayed in The Wizard of Oz. In fact, though I do believe "There is no place like home," I bet Dorothy would throw out her ruby red slippers and stay in Oz if she knew how much "home" has changed. If she knew that the many different faces and forms of sexual exploitation are much more frightening than witches and flying monkeys.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation is "A type of violence against children and youth which may include coerced or forced sexual acts in exchange for, or the promise of, money, drugs, food, clothing, shelter, or other survival needs. It is a transaction in which the body of a child and/or youth is treated as a commodity" (Countryman-Roswurm, 2005). Disheartening is the fact that such sexual exploitation, such modern-day form of slavery, is the most heinous, and yet far too often the most invisible form of child abuse in the United States today. A form of child abuse, targeted towards the most vulnerable, which includes mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.
Though it may be easier to think of children only being sold and bought for the purposes of labor or commercial sex acts in international countries, commercial sexual exploitation of US children and youth is "now tied with the illegal arms trade as the second-largest and second-fastest-growing criminal enterprise...both of them trailing only the illicit drug trade" (Winn, 2005, p.1). Estimates of US children and youth domestically trafficked for the purposes of sex acts range between one and two million (Flowers, 1998; Davis, 1999). Mid-West communities...Kansas is not free from such child trafficking.
Human trafficking crosses all socio-economic, racial, and religious boundaries and conservative estimates from professionals serving on the Anti-Sexual Exploitation Roundtable for Community Action suggest that 300-400 Wichita youth are at-risk of sexual exploitation each year. To demonstrate this, of 250 youth interviewed at the Wichita Children's Home between 2007 and 2008, sixty-seven percent reported they had been sexually assaulted or raped; forty-six percent had been asked to strip, go on a date or provide sexual favors in exchange for food, shelter, money or drugs; and forty percent reported that they had "agreed" or had been forced or manipulated to exchange sexual favors for food, shelter, money or drugs. Thus, once pursued, 100 of the 250 young people interviewed were forced, frauded, or coerced into sexual exploitation. This is only including the youth we know about, the children who survived and were lucky enough to make it into safe shelter.
Children and youth victimized in human trafficking are not social outcasts or criminals. Rather, they are our neighbors and friends, our nieces and nephews, and our children and grandchildren who have been or who are currently being mentally, physically, and sexually abused. And they don't need us standing around clicking our ruby red slippers or dreaming of Oz. Combating all forms of human trafficking, whether labor or sexual exploitation, takes a collaborative multi-disciplinary approach which bridges the gap between direct practice, research, and policy. This includes providing public awareness and professional training, prevention services, early identification and intervention services, survivor protection and human rights advocacy, perpetrator prosecution, and recovery services, while at the same time, working to reduce the demand that encourages sexual exploitation to occur in the first place.
Karen Countryman-Roswurm, LMSW, is a Therapist/Anti-Sexual Exploitation Services Coordinator with the Wichita Children's Home and the Founder/Coordinator of the Anti-Sexual Exploitation Roundtable for Community Action.