Crime & Courts

Woman really was on Wichita State campus looking for Bible study recruits, police say

Wichita State University campus
Wichita State University campus File photo

Reports that a woman on Wichita State’s campus was trying to lure students into the sex trade through a Bible study group are false, Wichita State officials said in a news release.

“There have been recent reports of someone approaching Wichita State students on campus to ask about their interest in a Bible study. Somehow this got linked to a social media ‘story’ where this was merely a ruse to cover human trafficking,” the release says.

“With the help of information supplied from our WSU community, the WSU Police Department was able to determine the woman in question is a member of a legitimate church here in Wichita,” the release says.

Wichita State police Chief Robert Hinshaw said Wichita State police linked the woman to the Canaan Community Church in south Wichita. Police found no laws were broken.

Hinshaw said he doesn’t know of a single credible report of a Bible study group luring college students into human trafficking in the country, but that doesn’t stop the urban legend from growing on social media — or police from taking the claims seriously.

On college campuses across the United States, these stories are popping up, usually without merit. This isn’t the first time a variant has happened in Wichita.

Three years ago, social media posts claimed men in a silver or gray van were attempting to abduct students at Wichita State and Friends University under the guise of taking them to Bible study.

Police found no evidence of people being kidnapped or that church members were doing anything illegal in that case either.

Still, Hinshaw said he thinks his department did the right thing by erring on the side of caution and investigating the allegations, which he said appeared mostly on social media but also included an official report.

Hinshaw said he wanted to be proactive and sought out any information students could give about the reported incident. A social media post by the university gave rise to more reports, Hinshaw said.

Wichita State police released information on the incident through a Facebook post on Aug. 24.

“According to social media reports, some people on campus have been approached by suspicious individuals they believe could be involved with human trafficking,” the Facebook post said.

The post describes reports by students that “a female was approaching young women fairly aggressively outside the Heskett Center tennis courts, under the guise of a Bible study class.”

The post tells students to notify university police if they suspect someone who approaches them “may be a perpetrator of sexual violence or sexual exploitation.” It also includes a statement from the Wichita State Center for Combating Human Trafficking, reminding students to “be cautious with sharing personal information or interacting with unfamiliar individuals.”

Hinshaw said he wanted to notify students of a potential threat, whether it was actual or not, and then distill the facts. That’s why he wanted to notify the university that the incident has been resolved, he said.

“These things take on a life of their own,” Hinshaw said. “But still, when there’s concerns that we’re made aware of, it’s our job as guardians of Wichita State to make sure if there’s any linkage or credibility to the reports being made.”

Chance Swaim: 316-269-6752, @byChanceSwaim