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I want to start by explaining why I am motivated to join Alaska’s efforts to stop violence against women in the sex trades and what I’ve learned from my own first hand experience.

Three decades or so ago, my auntie escaped from a serial killer. She went to the police with her hands still chained, covered in bruises. You may think you know the rest of that story, but they didn’t even bother to write her report down. They told her she was lucky they didn’t arrest her for prostitution and telling lies about a good man. She was a dancer. Despite several reports and a lot of evidence, Robert Hansen was allowed to go on killing dozens of women for many years.

I was raped twenty years later and despite my protests, a well-intentioned man pushed me out of his car at the police station. I figured they must have had some training in not re-traumatizing victims in the last twenty years, but I was wrong. They told me I was lucky they didn’t arrest me for prostitution and telling lies. I was a dancer.

A lot of people are talking about prostitutes and sex trafficking in Alaska right now, but those of us who know about the issue from first hand experience have not been speaking up. Why? Of course there’s fear of public exposure and condemnation, and many of us rightly fear we could be arrested if we tried to participate.

Last year Alaska spent $827,200 looking for sex traffickers but found no cases to investigate. With the huge amount of money spent and bureaucracies built around this goal, they began a controversial strategy. They began arresting the prostitutes themselves, supposedly victims, and charging them with sex trafficking! Hopefully this was not the intention of those who drafted this legislation, but it’s wording certainly supports its usage. Alaska’s new legal definition of Sex Trafficking in the fourth degree is, “engag(ing) in conduct that institutes, aids, or facilitates prostitution,” something that all prostitutes do to run their businesses.

My name is Terra Burns. I’m a lifelong Alaskan, a graduate student, and a retired sex worker with almost two decades of experience in all aspects of the sex trade. I know that Alaskans care about this issue and deserve to know what is happening. Thank you for taking the time to hear the experiences and recommendations of myself and others who’ve worked in the Alaskan sex trades.

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