K-State students attended the Lou Douglas Lecture to hear licensed master social worker Karen Countryman-Roswurm speak about Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking on Tuesday.
Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, or DMST, is a prevalent issue not only around the world, but also the United States, as every year one million American children are sexually exploited.
Countryman-Roswurm, who is the founder and coordinator of The Anti-Sexual Exploitation Roundtable for Community Action, or ASCERCA, started her presentation with her own personal experiences, many of which shaped her decision to get involved in the anti-human trafficking movement.
“When I was 13-years old, my mother committed suicide,” Countryman-Roswurm said. “I lived on the streets for three years and passed through the government child care system until I fought to legal emancipation at the age of 16.”
Countryman-Roswurm said that her past has shaped her ability to empathize with those that have been victims or have had their lives affected by DMST.
“I understand what it means to live in hopelessness and desperation,” Countryman-Roswurm said.
As the founder of ASERCA, Countryman-Roswurm plays an integral part in the intervention of DMST and also provides mental and emotional health therapy to survivors. She said she has learned two main things through her work.
“You have to be aware of and manage your own personal perspectives, biases and past trauma and not let those factors affect your ability to help the victims of DMST,” Countryman-Roswurm said.
She also spoke of the social stigma behind trafficking and the fact that the victims are the people that often get victimized.
“Treat those who you are serving as though they are already the people they were meant to be,” Countryman-Roswurm said. “You have to view them as the people who will achieve their dreams, not just as victims of domestic minor sex trafficking.”
According to Countryman-Roswurm, DMST is much closer to home than many Kansans think. In fact, Countryman-Roswurm said that just recently, a K-State sorority member was trafficked by her sorority sister, an occurrence that she said is not as rare as some think.
“Kansas is actually the favorite recruiting ground for the New York City sex trade,” Countryman-Roswurm said. “Over a five year period, 33 of the 262 children identified in New York City reported that they were from Kansas.”
According to Countryman-Roswurm, the average age of a minor that is sexually exploited is getting younger. When she started working with victims 15 years ago, the average age of victims was 16 to 17 years old; today the average age of a DMST victim is 11 to 14 years old.
Children who are trafficked are lured into the sex trade through a variety of channels and are sold by pimps, who use outlets such as strip clubs, pornography, commercial sex shops and night clubs to make thousands of dollars off of soliciting the sexual services of their victims. Buyers, who are referred to as “Johns,” are usually married, employed and have no criminal background.
DMST is the fastest growing and most profitable criminal activity, following only drugs and arms trafficking and, according to Countryman-Roswurm, the demand for minors as sex slaves is skyrocketing.
“One of the biggest reasons that human trafficking is so profitable is because, unlike drugs or guns, you can use a human body more than one time,” Countryman Roswurm said. “The sad fact is that one person is worth about $75,000 per year.”
The increasing sexual exploitation is a concern to the welfare of young American students and according, to Alexis Lundy, sophomore in family and consumer sciences and elementary education, is something that teachers should be equipped to handle.
“I think it is important as a future teacher to be aware of the fact that it is a dangerous world out there, and there are people out there waiting to take advantage of the most innocent of children,” said Lundy. “We have to understand that it is everybody’s responsibility to keep an eye out for danger signs, and actively intervene so that we can preserve the lives of our youth.”
According to Countryman-Roswurm, one of the most effective ways to solve the issues of DMST is to change the perception of DMST and recognize how society indirectly supports violence and disrespect.
Countryman-Roswurm read the story of an anonymous fourteen year old survivor of DMST, who in a letter had written her frustration about society’s reaction to her situation.
“I feel like people look at me and talk to me like I am dirty and nasty,” wrote the survivor. “But I didn’t do anything wrong. I am not a prostitute. I’m just a girl.”
Countryman-Roswurm wrapped up her presentation by pointing out that society needs to be more conscious about what they support.
After listening to a popular rap song that glorified pimping and sexual exploitation, she pointed out that DMST is essentially embedded in our culture.
“We listen to this kind of stuff every day,” she said. “This is our new romance music.”
Countryman-Roswurm urged the audience to take notice of what they support and ended by saying that respect is key to solving this issue.
“Our language shapes our paradigms and our paradigms shape our actions,” Countryman-Roswurm said. “If we continue to see victims as prostitutes, our actions will reflect and if we continue to support and allow DMST, the problem will only get worse.”
“I feel like there’s a lot that contributes to the rise of sex trafficking,” said Lizzie Snell, junior in fine arts. “The environment that our society creates is so important, and we need to hold ourselves accountable. We can try and change our music and commercials, but this issue is not going away until we make some serious cultural changes.”