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Shop to help victims of sex trafficking opens in Winona

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A Winona shop to help support victims of human sex trafficking opens Sunday.

Set Me Free sells jewelry and other items handmade by women saved from – or who escaped from – the sex trade. The proceeds will go to help the women, who are overseas, get counseling and education, according to the Winona Daily News. It will also give them a sense of pride and teach them job skills, Danielle Rothering, who owns Set Me Free, told the newspaper.

Rothering and her husband, Al, are holding the grand opening of the store in the back of the Awakening Coffeehouse, which they own together, the newspaper says.

Rothering, a former sexual-abuse counselor for the Pentagon, decided to open the store after seeing a poster at a shop in Wisconsin that said 27 million people are enslaved in the human trafficking industry, according to the Associated Press.

In February, she traveled abroad to meet some of the women she was helping and was shocked by what she saw. One victim was an 8-year-old girl who was sold into slavery when she was only 5, the newspaper says.

The FBI says human trafficking is the most common form of modern-day slavery and is the fastest-growing business of organized crime and third-largest criminal enterprise in the world.

The majority of sex trafficking is international, with victims taken from Asia, the former Soviet Union, Central and South America and other less-developed areas. The people, usually women and children, are moved to more developed areas, including Asia, the Middle East, Western Europe and North America, the FBI says.

Sex trafficking also occurs in the United States. The U.S. faces an influx of international victims and has its own homegrown problem of interstate sex trafficking of minors, the FBI says. An estimated 293,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation, according to the FBI.

The FBI identified the Twin Cities as one of 13 U.S. cities with a high incidence rate of child prostitution, the Women's Foundation of Minnesota says. A 2010 study found that each month in Minnesota at least 213 girls are sold for sex on average of five times per day through the Internet and escort services, the foundation said.

In 2013, officials in Duluth worked to raise awareness about sex trafficking. Also in 2013, St. Paul officials broke up a family-run sex-trafficking ring that operated for nearly two years. Last year, a state panel recommended a $13 million plan to treat victims of sex trafficking as part of the Safe Harbor Act.

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