Rumors that a local door-to-door book saleswoman is involved in a sex-trafficking plot are just that, Winona Police Department officials say.
Recent Facebook posts by parents visited by a woman who sells children’s educational books door-to-door suggested that the woman was connected to a sex-trafficking scam. However, “there is no evidence indicating that this is the case,” Deputy Police Chief Tom Williams said of the allegations. The woman who is the victim of the rumors is authorized by the city as a door-to-door solicitor and works for a company that has sent interns to Winona for years.
Williams added that the Police Department knows exactly who the woman is, where she is staying, and what vehicle she is driving. Officers will be talking with her about her aggressive sales tactics, Williams said, but the sex trafficking allegations are unfounded.
The department did receive two calls from parents regarding the saleswoman: one from a parent frightened by the Facebook post who called the police as soon as she saw the woman and another from a parent who was made uneasy by the saleswoman’s pitch. “She’s very pushy,” Williams said. “It makes people uneasy that she asks a lot of questions about kids,” but there is no reason to believe she is a sex trafficker, he added.
The woman works for a Nashville company that makes children’s educational books and enlists college interns to sell them door-to-door.
According to the company’s website, “the most successful students in the Summer Internship Program” work 13 to 14 hours a day, six days a week. The interns can earn college credit and the difference in retail and wholesale prices of the books they sell, but they are not guaranteed to earn any money, according to the company.
Similar Facebook rumors involving sex trafficking have been lodged against the company’s salespeople in Gilbert, Ariz., Enid, Okla., and Fort Smith, Ark., all of which have been dispelled by law enforcement, according to local media reports. The company could not be reached for comment before the Winona Post went to press. A spokesperson for the company did issue a statement to Winona Police officials saying that the woman has been “the victim of a false, defaming Facebook rumor.”
Parents are right to be cautious; sex trafficking is not nonexistent in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, there were 614 sex trafficking charges filed in Minnesota courts in 2011. However, a local parent’s claim that the book company has been linked to sex trafficking scandals is unsubstantiated, police say.
The Winona Post could not find any reputable reports of door-to-door salespeople acting as the predators in human trafficking rings. Coincidentally, however, there are several reports of door-to-door salespeople being the victims of human trafficking and labor abuses. The New York Times, National Public Radio, and the Seattle Times published reports of young people being convinced to join traveling door-to-door sales companies where they earned next to nothing for long hours or became indebted to the companies.