Crime & Courts

Wichita child-trafficking victim, now 18, may soon be released from jail

Sedgwick County Jail
Sedgwick County Jail File photo

Kristen, a teenage human trafficking victim now charged with felony trafficking crimes, will likely be released Tuesday or Wednesday after spending seven months in the Sedgwick County Jail, a judge said.

The judge gave Kristen six months to redirect her life away from human trafficking activity and warned that she could be jailed for more than 16 years if she fails.

The Wichita Eagle is not using Kristen’s last name because it does not name victims of sex crimes without their permission.

“Most great testimonies in life arise from tragedies,” District Judge Kevin Smith told her in a hearing Tuesday. “No one in this courtroom can relate to what happened to you in life.

“But now a lot of people have stuck their necks out for you. You need to understand how serious this is.”

Kristen, 18, was jailed seven months ago and charged with three felonies. In court documents, police said they believed she aided a 16-year-old girl in selling herself for money. She faced a hearing on Tuesday where Smith was scheduled to decide whether she would be charged as an adult for the crimes she was accused of as a juvenile.

But on the recommendation of both prosecutors and defense attorney Steve House, Smith continued that hearing to September and told Kristen she must spend that time complying with a plan drawn up to help her by Wichita State University’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking.

The center’s director, Karen Countryman-Roswurm, has said that Kristen needs help rather than jail. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett has said his office could not ignore evidence gathered by Wichita police.

Under the plan recommended by the center, Kristen will be released to the custody of a Wichita couple. That couple must agree to the terms of a $5,000 bond, the judge said. The terms of that bond will not require the couple to put up the money, but Smith told Kristen that if she violates the terms of her release, she might go to jail and the couple might be held liable for the money.

House, her defense attorney, said after the hearing that people working with her will help her try to find a job and get into classes at Butler Community College.

Center staff also will find other options to improve her life, said Risa Rehmert, who works at the center. Rehmert visited Kristen in jail once a week for months.

“We want her to choose some of this,” Rehmert said. “She hasn’t been able to choose a lot of things in her life.”

Kristen first became a prominent victim of human trafficking at age 13.

Police brought her out of a human trafficker’s trailer in Wichita. Her story of being traumatized and abused by Wichita pimps inspired the founding of ICT S.O.S., a local charity to help human trafficking victims and other vulnerable children.

Roy Wenzl: 316-268-6219, @roywenzl