Crime & Courts

March 13, 2011

Men charged with rape, human trafficking

The 13-year-old girl saw the black Cadillac Escalade pull up to a QuikTrip, and she climbed inside with a man she had never met.

The 13-year-old girl saw the black Cadillac Escalade pull up to a QuikTrip, and she climbed inside with a man she had never met.

She had been told by another teen that this man would treat her better than the other pimps in Wichita.

Last week, the girl mumbled through tears in Sedgwick County District Court to tell a judge how men bought and sold her for sex.

The men she accused also were in court last week. Prosecutors say it's the first time they have charged both a pimp who they say provided the child and the "john," who they say paid for her.

Donald L. Davis, 48, and James M. Cochran, 54, stood silent as a judge entered pleas of not guilty on their behalf. If convicted, they face charges that could send them to prison for the rest of their lives.

Davis is charged with rape and human trafficking. Cochran faces three charges of rape. Their attorneys declined comment at their arraignment.

The girl is one of hundreds across the city and perhaps among 2 million around the United States exploited through commercial sex, officials think.

Girls and boys, on average, enter the sex trade between the ages of 11 to 13, according the U.S. Department of Justice.

They're exploited through strip clubs, pornography and escort services. Investigators at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit say they have tracked local girls being taken to cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and Las Vegas to work in the sex industry.

Wichita is among less than a dozen cities to bring such serious charges against those accused of buying and selling teenagers.

Prosecutors and police in south-central Kansas are also rethinking the way they see the youths who were once called prostitutes and charged as criminals.

"We try to stress to them... they are victims," said Anne Lund, a social worker with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. She's assigned to the human trafficking team.

Those who see victims of the sex trade daily have stopped using words like "prostitute."

"Child prostitute is an oxymoron," said Karen Countryman-Roswurm, a former teen runaway who is now a social worker.

"Is a child who's 13 years old emotionally intellectually capable of making a decision such as that? Absolutely not," Countryman-Roswurm said. "Especially when you look at her background."

The girls Risa Rehmert meets through the Street Outreach Program at the Wichita Children's Home say they ran away from beatings and rapes by their family, only to be taken in by pimps who treat them the same way.

"Although they may not express it this articulately, they say, 'People are taking from me at home, so why not make money at it?''' Rehmert said.


In court last week, the 13-year-old testified she knew Davis simply as "Babe."

After picking her up in his Escalade, she said Davis took her to an apartment to have sex with her.

He liked to try out "his girls" first before he sold them, prosecutor Marc Bennett said during his questioning of the girl.

She couldn't describe the apartment.

"I only saw the bedroom," she said.

Davis also had sex with her at his trailer, she testified, where he lived with his girlfriend and their child. He gave the girl, a runaway from the Wichita Children's Home, a place to stay and food. He bought her a pair of shoes, and he let her keep some of the money she made.

The girl said she and Davis would be in the Escalade when he would get a call from his girlfriend. "Mike" wanted to do business.

Davis explained to her prices and how she would collect money, she testified. Kissing cost extra, she said. Then the 13-year-old said he sent her into the house alone.

She testified she took the money and put it in her shoe. "Mike" didn't want to pay extra to kiss her.

In front of others in court, the girl couldn't even talk about the basics of sex.

When Bennett questioned her, she would giggle and hide her face, which turned red.

Bennett, who at 6 feet stood a foot or more taller than the girl, used diagrams of the human body. The girl circled the parts of her body and the parts the men had put inside her. She faced the judge and kept her back turned to the defendants dressed in jail jumpsuits.

When asked to identify "Babe," the girl burst into tears.

She identified Davis as "Babe." She gestured to Cochran as "Mike."

Police had been looking for the girl since Thanksgiving. Authorities said they found her in Davis' trailer on Christmas Eve. They said she had been with Cochran earlier in the day.

That's how they were able to identify and build a case against both men. Police said they always aren't so lucky.

"They don't just come up front and tell you, 'I'm a victim of human trafficking,' " said Officer Kent Bauman of the Exploited and Missing Child Unit. "A lot of times we don't find out this girl's a victim until weeks or months afterwards, and the evidence is gone."

It was officials at the Wichita Children's Home who reported the girl as a runaway and initiated a search for her, not her family.

"So many times, they're not even reported as runaways," said Lund, the social worker, "because nobody misses them."

Beneath the surface

No one knows how many youths are currently involved in the U.S. sex trade.

"These children don't count, and nobody is counting them," wrote Julian Sher in his book, "Somebody's Daughter: The Hidden Story of America's Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them."

Sher found available estimates of children being sold for sex at between 300,000 and 2 million.

"That's obviously a huge gap," Countryman-Roswurm said.

What we do know in Wichita is that the Exploited and Missing Child Unit receives reports on some 1,200 runaways each year.

Now studying for her doctorate in community psychology, Countryman-Roswurm spent 10 years working with runaways and sex trade survivors.

In 2006 she founded the Anti-Sexual Exploitation Roundtable for Community Action in Wichita, which brought together law enforcement, therapists, social services and health care workers.

From 2007 to 2008, Countryman-Roswurm interviewed 250 youths coming through the Wichita Children's Home.

She found:

* 67 percent had been sexually assaulted or raped.

* 46 percent had been offered food, shelter, clothing, money or drugs in exchange for sex.

* 40 percent were "forced, prodded or coerced into trading sex for what they needed to survive."

"Only 6 percent of these youth have the skills or the strength to get away from that situation," Country-Roswurm said. "Which means to me we have to be doing more in our society in regards to prevention."

First, people have to start recognizing there is a problem, she said.

"We say it exists beneath the surface," said Bauman. "It goes on all over our community, but it's something no one wants to talk about."

And it exists, Countryman-Roswurm said, because people are willing to pay for sex with young girls.

False advertising

The 13-year-old girl said she told Davis she was 17.

That's not unusual, researchers say. Girls lie about their age, and pimps provide fake identification so they won't get caught trafficking children.

The girls perform in strip clubs and are made available on Internet "escort services."

"Amateur nights at the strip clubs are big," said Mike Nagy, a police officer who tracks runaways for the Exploited and Missing Child Unit. "On those nights, let's just say they can be lax on checking IDs."

Rehmert interviews girls who have worked in strip bars through the Wichita Children's Home's Street Outreach Program.

"There's always more going on than dancing," Rehmert said one 16-year-old told her.

On the Internet, authorities identified as a main source of advertising for traffickers. In the ads, teen girls lie about their ages. But they use their real pictures.

Both Rehmert and Lund recognize the pictures of girls they know to be minors on Backpage ads.

But even if customers don't know they are buying sex with a minor, they can still get in big trouble.

Cochran and Davis face 25 years to life if they're convicted of rape under Kansas' Jessica's Law. The 2006 law provides severe prison sentences for people having sexual relations with children under the age of 14.

Safe places

The 13-year-old testified she met Davis at a QuikTrip. But the convenience store chain is also the place runways in trouble can find help.

QuikTrip and Wichita fire stations are designated as "Safe Places."

Last year, Rehmert said the Wichita Children's Home received 250 calls from the Safe Places.

"The people who work at QuikTrip see a kid alone or who looks a little suspicious and they call us," Rehmert said. "They're learning what to look for."

If they get the chance to make that contact. Survivors of the sex trade talk about being under "pimp arrest," where they are denied contact with the outside world.

The 13-year-old girl who testified said Davis didn't give her a cell phone. After she had sex and collected the money, she said she would borrow the phone of her customer. She would call Davis, she said, to come pick her up.

Bennett, the prosecutor, said a group of women in the Junior League asked what they could do.

"Keep your eyes open," Bennett said. "If you see a girl at the QuikTrip getting in an Escalade and it doesn't seem right, get a tag number, call 911 and ask someone to check it out."

At the Children's Home, the runaways get warm clothes, food, a place to stay and access to counseling. Some flourish.

"These are really amazing, bright kids," Rehmert said. "All they need is opportunity and hope."

Others leave only to have their half-naked pictures return to

Many have no place to go, other than the Juvenile Detention Facility.

"Good, safe, housing is a real need," Bauman said. "Sometimes, they're safer with us in the JDF than anywhere else."

The 13-year-old who testified last week stayed in detention, charged with prostitution, until authorities could place her in a home. Once she was safe, Bennett dropped the charges.

Countryman-Roswurm said agencies serving youths across the city need to better coordinate their efforts to identify at-risk children.

She also said attitudes about the sex trade need to change.

"People need to see, this can be my daughter; this can be my niece; this can be my sister; this can be my wife," Countryman-Roswurm said.

"But for so long, we've called them prostitutes. They are victims of sexual abuse, and they've been forced and coerced to participate in this form of slavery.

"And that's really what it is."

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