WSU: CCHT is not a confidential resource for discussing Title IX incidents

The Center’s executive director, who says she has faced years of harassment at WSU, was told she could be fired if the CCHT fails to report potential Title IX incidents within 24 hours.


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.

A post on the Wichita State Center for Combatting Human Trafficking Facebook page has prompted the university to clarify that CCHT is not a confidential resource for campus community members to share their accounts of sexual misconduct and other Title IX incidents at WSU.

The post came after CCHT Executive Director Karen Countryman-Roswurm came forward earlier this month claiming she has faced years of harassment, discrimination, and hostility at WSU. 

“We have been moved by the number of individuals sharing their own experiences of abuse, discrimination, hostility and retaliation on campus. We at the CCHT would like to offer a space for survivors to share their stories with other survivors,” read part of the original post from Feb. 7, which has since been amended. “We want to offer space so we know and you know you’re not alone. We also want to offer a confidential space that would allow us to communicate the breadth and pervasiveness of these behaviors.”

Countryman-Roswurm was warned that she could be fired if she failed to report potential Title IX incidents to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC) within 24 hours.

Countryman-Roswurm said she is not in charge of CCHT’s social media and had not read the Facebook post when she was emailed by OIEC Director Christine Taylor on Thursday.

“It is my responsibility as OIEC director to inform you that you may not hold yourself out as a confidential resource or support person for university students or employees,” read Taylor’s email, which also stated that failure to report pertinent information could be a violation of university policy “subject to disciplinary action up to and including separation from employment.”

With very few exceptions, university employees are mandatory reporters, meaning that if confided in about sexual assault, dating violence, or harassment on campus, they must file a report with the OIEC.

Only university employees who work for Student Health and Counseling and Prevention Services can be confided in confidentially. The Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center campus advocate is not a mandated reporter either.

Countryman-Roswurm said Taylor’s email alarmed her because it did not specify that CCHT employees only have to report potential Title IX incidents to the university.

“Christine (Taylor) came off extremely firm and threatened that if I didn’t give her names of victims, I would face possible termination,” Countryman-Roswurm said.

“Confidentiality and the ability to offer confidential services to the individuals we serve at the Center for Combatting Human Trafficking is absolutely crtitical. And the survivors that we serve — many of them are off-campus, but some of them are also on-campus. Some of them are actual students.”

WSU Title IX Coordinator Sara Zafar clarified the scope of mandatory reporting in a follow-up email to Countryman-Roswurm Friday.

“This does not affect your program’s purpose and status as a confidential resource and support for survivors of trafficking in the community unless the perpetrators of the trafficking are employees, guests or students [at WSU],” Zafar’s email reads.

Countryman-Roswurm said she sees underlying frustration in the WSU community about how Title IX incidents are handled by the university.

“Yes, I understand that you’re saying you don’t want us providing confidential services regarding Title IX incidents — which we’ve received none as a result of that (Facebook) post,” she said. “Now we had already received lots of information from people — I should say, lots of people who are just saying, “me too” as a result of Sunflower articles and The Eagle, which is why some of my staff who serve our survivors on and off campus felt it necessary to offer [a support group] as a service.”

Countryman-Roswurm said that, for fear of losing her job, she had “no other option” but to provide the OIEC with several names of people whose circumstances fit the description of potential harassment, discrimination, or a hostile environment.

“Even the survivors who are part of our program who have not experienced violence on campus now feel fearful to come on campus because of the realities of what other people are facing,” Countryman-Roswurm said. “So when you’re a student on WSU campus and you read a Sunflower article that says, ‘Only 7% of these cases ever even go to formal investigation,” well then, understandably so, we have survivors in our program who are now saying, ‘We don’t want to come to WSU campus. We don’t feel safe there. We’re triggered now. We don’t want to come.

“If WSU has concerns about reports regarding harassment and a hostile environment, then they should probably first start with the records and information that they already obtain within their own office and evaluate, make a true account of whether or not they have performed their duties fully.”

Zafar told The Sunflower that Title IX does its best to sensitively and objectively handle every case referred through the process. She said the less than 7% of sexual misconduct cases at WSU that ultimately end in formal Title IX investigations is not unusually low.

The Sunflower has sent open records requests to Kansas’s other state universities for Title IX records in an attempt to better contextualize the percentage of sexual misconduct cases that result in formal investigations.

Countryman-Roswurm said she and her CCHT staff are committed to helping WSU become a national forerunner in addressing various forms of abuse, discrimination, and hostility. She said she has no intentions of operating out of compliance with WSU’s policies and procedures.

“So long as abiding by WSU policy and procedure does not conflict with my main commitment, which is to students and to survivors, again, my heart is to help WSU and remain in compliance and operate under policy,” she said.