Their carefully woven fabric in colorful hues are attractive, but the acrylic knitted scarves sold by Menomonie-based Fierce Beauty are meant to convey more than a pretty message.
Organization co-founders Jenny Almquist of Colfax and Tammy Berend of Menomonie donate at least 10 percent of money from sales of scarves - some of which are made in Menomonie - to efforts to end human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery in which people exploit others for profit, often through prostitution.
Human trafficking victims include children involved in the sex trade, people 18 or older who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of labor or services, such as domestic workers held against their will in a home or farm workers forced to labor against their will.
Four years ago Almquist was at a woman's conference in Sydney, Australia, where she learned about human trafficking. The conference prompted her to sell scarves to raise awareness about human trafficking.
"I didn't know it was an issue, and I had never heard of it," Almquist, 46, said of human trafficking. "I was surprised and horrified. There are more slaves today than there have ever been in all of history."
Like Almquist, Berend felt compelled to help raise awareness of human trafficking and to try to end the practice.
Human trafficking happens to all ages and to males and females.
"It is happening in schools," Almquist said. "Teenage boys will sell their girlfriends to their friends for profit. That's sex trafficking."
Almquist and Berend aren't stopping their efforts to combat human trafficking at selling scarves. The duo is in the process of starting a nonprofit organization called Fierce Freedom that will oversee a safe house for victims of human trafficking in the Chippewa Valley. They hope to open the safe house within a year.
The facility is needed, given the few available locations for human trafficking victims to stay, Berend said, and Menomonie's location along Interstate 94 - often used to transport victims between Chicago and Minneapolis - makes it a good spot for a safe house, a place victims can escape to.
Organizers hope the safe house can provide counseling and other services to human trafficking victims.
"Part of the goal is to create in the community partnerships because these women will need help repairing their lives," said Cheryl Voyles, a sexual assault survivor and advocate for people impacted by sexual violence.
With the increased use of the Internet and as society has become more mobile, human trafficking has expanded, Voyles said.
"There is hope everyone does something," Almquist said. "If we all step up to the plate and raise awareness it can be stopped."
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