Center for Combating Human Trafficking director says she faced sexual harassment, discrimination, hostile work environment at WSU


File Photo by Easton Thompson / The Sunflower

Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Combating Human Trafficing Karen Countryman-Roswurm speaks to a writer from The Sunflower in 2019 about the importance of giving students the opportunity to work with victims directly during an interview in Lindquist Hall.

The name of the Wichita State Center for Combating Human Trafficking convention this year was “Be the Bombshell.” Karen Countryman-Roswurm, founder and executive director of the Center, dropped her own bombshell Friday at the annual conference.

Originally reported by the Wichita Eagle, during her opening remarks, Countryman-Roswurm said that she has faced harassment, discrimination and a hostile work environment at Wichita State over the last seven years.

After seeking assistance from the university and filing a complaint with the Title IX office, things only got worse, Countryman-Roswurm said.

“The more that I have sought assistance and pursued a resolution internally, I have experienced retaliation that has significantly impacted my ability to fully participate in, enjoy, benefit from, and contribute to my chosen profession at WSU,” Countryman-Roswurm said, according to a transcript of her remarks.

Countryman-Roswurm said she was subject to racist comments about her Native American heritage and false rumors that suggested she traded sexual favors to advance within the university.

Countryman-Roswurm did not name anyone she is accusing. Rather, she referred to all harassing parties collectively as “Perpetrator.”

“Perpetrator has spread rumors that I, an anti-trafficking expert, in essence, prostituted myself in order to ‘get a center,’” The Wichita Eagle reported her as saying.

When she asked for assistance in making the workplace safer, she said her supervisors did not offer support. They told her not to report and that it would ruin her career, she said.

“Nobody likes a whistleblower,” was one comment she said someone made to her.

In her formal records, Countryman-Roswurm said that she also requested help to resolve the problem and that it was necessary for her to continue.

“Thus, in addition to my direct supervisors, multiple colleagues across campus have access to, and have viewed these files,” she said. “Yet no one has ever spoken with me about these reports or taken action to offer me safety or protection from further harm.”

After she received tenure in 2017, she said the situation was escalated when her harasser was promoted. After her assistant director approached her in late 2018, she filed a complaint with the Title VII and Title IX offices.

That’s when the retaliation began, she said.

According to their website, the Center for Combating Human trafficking, founded by Countryman-Roswurm in 2012, “bridges the gap between direct practice, policy, and academic resources for the purposes of effectively preventing, assessing, identifying, evaluating, and intervening in cases of human trafficking.”

Countryman-Roswurm said she was told that if she did not stop pursuing a Title IX investigation, her contract would be cancelled.

After not withdrawing her report, she said a key employee in her office was fired and her harasser threatened to fire another and stop abiding by her contract.

“In fact, strangely representing an interaction to a pimp, I have been told that while I am expected to continue in my shared appointment as associate professor and executed director of CCHT, for the Center portion of my position . . . the portion that requires the most significant amount of my time and effort on behalf of the university, I am to be self sufficient and pay my own salary,” Countryman-Roswurm said.

She said her harasser, also a professor at the university, made students read an article in class that said “females are more violent than males” and another on how human trafficking was not a valid issue.

Countryman-Roswurm said the students informed her of their experience and said they thought it personally had something to do with her. The students then typed a letter documenting their experience and delivered it to various administrators and offices.

According to the Wichita Eagle, the university declined to comment on Countryman-Roswurm’s speech.

“Wichita State University is committed to the elimination of misconduct including all forms of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation within the University community,” Wichita State spokesman Joe Kleinsasser said in a written statement to The Eagle.

“The University maintains a system of resources to prevent and address allegations of misconduct. While the University does not directly comment on individual complaints or investigations, it is committed to following its policies and procedures in addressing any complaints raised by University students or employees.”