National Mentoring Resource Center Blog

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January is National Human Trafficking Awareness and National Mentoring Month

JANUARY 21, 2016

Reflections on the Power of Mentoring with Survivors of Abuse and Exploitation

My name is Karen Countryman-Roswurm and I am the Founder and Executive Director of Wichita State University’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking (CCHT). CCHT provides direct survivor-centered services, education, training, consultation, research, and advocacy/public policy services. From facilitating prevention groups with at-risk youth to providing advocacy services to survivors of human trafficking, and from providing training on our Lotus Anti-Trafficking ModelTM to assisting in the development of law or policy, CCHT staff are committed to 1) preventing human trafficking 2) intentionally and effectively intervening in situations of trafficking and 3) promoting holistic prosperity among survivors. All of these efforts require relationships.

With National Human Trafficking Awareness Month as well as National Mentoring Month upon us, I have been spending additional time reflecting on the power of relationship. What has relationship meant in my life? What types of relationships or relationship dynamics have been the most helpful in my personal and professional development? Throughout my professional experiences of providing direct-services, as well as providing training and technical assistance (TTA) to Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) grantees and other providers around the country, what have I learned about the power of relationship in the lives of those who are at risk of or who have been subjected to human trafficking? What I do know is this—it is because of committed adults who were willing to step outside of themselves and pour into my life that I am the woman I am today.

Exposed to trauma at an early age due to neglect, abuse, addiction, and divorce, my life took a turn for the worst at the age of thirteen when my mother committed suicide. Without extended family supports, I spent the next three years as a displaced youth—in and out of various foster and group homes and more often than not, as a runaway and homeless youth. During this time I was alone. I felt hopeless. I often acted out of desperation.

Fed-up and hungry for change, I presented my situation to my juvenile court judge who emancipated me at the age of sixteen. After my mothers’ death, my judge was the first person to believe in me. Thankfully, she was not the last. My journey began to intersect with a handful of individuals and families who were willing to go above and beyond their role or duty to invest in my life. Within months of my emancipation, I gained employment as a street outreach peer counselor at a shelter I had previously resided in, and through an insurmountable number of interactions with youth obtaining similar experiences as myself, I found purpose in committing my life to combating human trafficking.

I have been blessed to have a small consortium of advocates, teachers, mentors, and unwavering friends who, through an offering of consistent connections, have created the context in which I could achieve my resilient potential. It is through this context of relationship that I have been able to obtain an education—mobilizing me from being an abandoned, homeless, demoralized girl without a high school diploma to being a malleable, self-actualized, confident woman with a doctoral degree. It is within the safety of committed relationships with formal and informal mentors that I have been able to challenge, and even change, the maladaptive cognitive generalizations I had about my life based on past experiences. Through those relationships, I have been awarded opportunities that have allowed me to apply my gifts of hope, passion, and drive. Therefore, it is because of my relationships with caring, committed, consistent adults that I have become the woman I am today.

It is the hope of mentoring programs around the country that by connecting committed adults with vulnerable youth, they might be able to influence similar transformations. Specifically, through our opportunity to provide TTA to OJJDP Mentoring for Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Sex Trafficking programs, we - the Center for Combating Human Trafficking (CCHT) in partnership with MANY - have seen the reality of such hope. Within this opportunity, OJJDP has invested in six programs around the country to mentor survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic sex trafficking. From paid survivor-leader mentoring models to traditional unpaid community volunteer models, these OJJDP’s pilot sites are eliciting life change.

As the TTA providers who walk in partnership with OJJDP and the six pilot programs, we have been gifted with the chance to observe the demonstrated power of what can happen when an adult comes alongside a vulnerable young person. We have noted the factors that assist marginalized young people in becoming the resilient and prosperous people they were created to be. Ultimately, with National Human Trafficking Awareness and National Mentoring Month upon us, my personal and professional reflections illuminate that within my own life and across my professional experiences, it is only through the power of relationships that true, systemic and sustainable life transformation can occur.

Some insights I have gained throughout my personal and professional development are often reflected in successful mentoring programs. They include:

  • Relationships must be intentional and purposeful in order to be transformational.
  • Be intentional in creating opportunities for relationships to develop organically.
  • Assist in the development of a new life narrative for victims/survivors by staying consistent and committed NO MATTER WHAT.
  • While it is important to let the victims/survivor mentee lead the direction of the relationship, the mentor—the committed adult—must be prepared to assertively pursue the relationship.
  • The focus of the relationship should not be on the details of past trauma. Rather, the focus of the relationship should be on assisting the mentee in achieving holistic health and prosperity.

Additional Tips for Personal Development:

  • Mentoring those at-risk of and/or subjected to CSE or DMST can at times be painfully heart wrenching. Therefore, recognize yourself as a “wounded healer.” In order to effectively assist in the holistic healing of another, we must consistently seek to heal ourselves in a manner that enables us to utilize our full professional selves.
  • With the aforementioned in mind, it is critical to have supportive, competent partners. I have found it overwhelmingly helpful to surround myself with personal and professional mentors who can tell me the truth in a loving way. If we are to truly mentor others, we must continue to ensure we obtain our own mentoring.
  • Fall in love with, and remain passionate about, the work you do with vulnerable and marginalized populations. We are most effective when we operate from a place of fullness. When we are empty, sad, angry or dispassionate, we can unintentionally hurt those we wish to serve. Tune into you. Take care of yourself. Engage with those with positivity and joy.


You can learn more about Karen and her work on the CCHT website at

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Tags: Children exposed to violence, Mental health, Survivors of abuse and trauma, Trauma exposure

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