WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Human trafficking is a nationwide problem and Wichita is no exception.
This week, an investigation led authorities to make an arrest in a human trafficking case involving a 15-year-old victim from Lawrence.
Both law enforcement and social advocates that help victims of human trafficking tell KSN the reason for the increase in cases in the Wichita area isn’t because there are more human trafficking cases. They say it’s because more people are reporting the crime and bringing human trafficking situations to the surface.
Human trafficking victims’ advocates say reporting the crime is one step in helping the victims.
“There’s been a lot of public awareness over the last several years,” said Wichita Police Lieutenant Travis Rakestraw.
Rakestraw is the commander of the Exploited and Missing Child Unit which is a joint task force of the Wichita Police and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office,
“More people are coming forward reporting to law enforcement and social services when they see something that they believe is human trafficking,” Rakestraw said.
Advocates say that’s a good thing.
“I think it’s very well intended but what we see throughout history with various social problems is that we tend to want to rescue a vulnerable or marginalized population. That often equates to us throwing commodities at them,’ said Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm, the founder of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University.
Countryman-Roswurm has been involved the anti-human-trafficking movement in Wichita for more than 20 years. She says while things like clothing and hygene products are helpful to victims of human trafficking, she works to provide long-term care.
“Have they had a health care check? Their psychological needs; do they need mental health care? Social needs; do they need housing?” asks Countryman-Roswurm.
What makes the Center for Combating Human Trafficking unique is that it employs and directly utilizes survivors of human trafficking to help other victims out of the cycle.
“We really feel it’s important to provide the training and the resources to help them rescue themselves out of that situation of abuse and exploitation long term,” said Countryman-Roswurm.
While law enforcement officials were unable to provide the number of human trafficking victims who have been identified in Wichita Wednesday, Countryman-Roswurm said her center has worked with three victims last week alone.