Years of experience in the Alaska sex trade?
I started working in the houses in Alaska in 1986. It was a great work environment. The hours sucked but my coworkers were always really nice. We were always able to help each other and share the inside track on this or that customer. We’d eat dinner together and wait for the customers to drop by. Things were going pretty well ’til the price of oil dropped and the first gulf war broke out. It seems the economy went into a type of retraction and the only customers who came in the winter of 1987/8 were soldiers who had never received professional services before. It was quite awkward to have to deal with the depressing impending clouds of doom that hung over their heads. They never expected to be deployed to a foreign land to defend American values. As one of my solder customers put it, “It’s Vietnam all over again.” I was used to dealing with happy people, or at least people who were glad to see me, not people who were only coming by because they believed it was their last chance for human contact before they were sent to their deaths in a faraway place.
I’ve since worked all across the United States. From Washington, D.C. to the Aleutian Islands, the North Slope…I’ve always had a great time working when I could find the work. It’s afforded me the ability to support myself and my kids.
Can you tell us anything about sex trafficking in Alaska?
It seems that Alaska has fallen under the same anti-trafficking spell which is really the same old anti-prostitution agenda* that has spread across the US like cancer. As recently as last month, there was a report in Alaska of a woman being charged with essentially trafficking herself. She’s charged with sex trafficking in the fourth degree which is completely unnecessary. They published her name! She wasn’t hurting anyone. That arrest is going to follow her for the rest of her life and will result in a lifelong sentence of sexual harassment by anyone who wants to use that arrest as the means to justify any ill treatment of her. She’ll face life-long discrimination in housing, employment, education, professional licensure, child custody, and predator lending at least. She will suffer all this under the guise of stopping forced labor in our industry. Even if she was being forced through fraud or coercion, this response is complete overkill. We are real people whose real lives are being treated like we don’t matter by law enforcement as well as these religious zealot anti-trafficker people who are really anti-prostitution people. They’re playing a winner-take-all game with our lives and it’s disgusting. Prostitution ought not to be illegal at all.
What effect have the Alaska anti-prostitution laws had?
Several of my friends have been arrested in these anti-prostitution sting operations by naked FBI agents posing as customers in hotels all under the guise of supposedly rescuing trafficked victims. Any such victims cannot be satisfied that many innocent women are having our lives ruined on their behalf. Too, how traumatizing would it be for a real victim to end up being arrested for prostitution by a naked FBI man? Or a minor for that matter?
Recently at the Rural Providers Conference we were told that almost all prostitutes are victims, some of us just don’t know it yet. The attorney general and local papers have made similar statements. What do you think?
I think these service providers have an economic investment in promoting those of us who work in the sex industry as disqualified to speak for ourselves. To rename us as victims, or to rename us at all, is clearly the act of the bosses, the masters. These self-appointed moralist interpreters of our class always use those terms to debase us of our humanity and our civil and labor rights. This infantilizing of us is used to justify their profiting off the criminalization of our labor. The naked FBI guys are getting paid. The person who installed the hidden video camera filming the anti-prostitution sting operations is getting paid. The nonprofit workers who takes the opportunity to violate our right to remain silent while we’re in handcuffs after we’ve been arrested are getting paid. They all clock the money off our head count as we magically turn from defendants in criminal investigations into victims trafficked into their arms. That’s how they all get paid.
The other part of our reality is that they’re not there for us when we are victims of rape, robbery, theft, coercion, extortion, kidnapping, assault, and battery. The movie The Frozen Ground depicts the real life scenario of the Anchorage Police Department too inept to get a serial killer off the streets. If people are really concerned about us, which they really aren’t, then they’d be making sure we have equal protection under the law, instead of charging us with trafficking ourselves. These anti-trafficking laws are the way religious zealots get to punish people for not having sex like them, plus they get to act like they’re doing something of value on the taxpayers’ dime. While domestic violence, public education, and foster programs have had their budgets slashed, federal money for the anti-trafficking “raising awareness” campaigns have simultaneously inflated disproportionately. We call these misguided efforts raising stigma and lies against us because that’s what they’re really doing. Like the serial killers and the rapists, they want us to shut up and make sure no one believe us.
You mentioned that some of our state laws or the way they’re being enforced might be in violation of constitutionally protected rights. Can you explain more about that?
All state laws that criminalize prostitution violate our constitutional right to free speech, the right to negotiate for our labor and our own safe work conditions. Too, the laws that criminalize the participants in prostitution are used to bar equal protection under the law and that violates our constitutional rights. We must have the right to report crimes without the threat of being arrested or retaliated against especially by law enforcement regardless of the conditions and circumstances we work under.
Its progress that the re-authorization of the Trafficking Victim Protection Act, which is now under the Violence Against Women Act, includes a policy statement that minors ought not be arrested for prostitution. Criminalizing minors has major detrimental effects on our youth and on our society.
Certainly we must have our rights as private citizens recognized and protected. They must stop passing laws that allow us to be treated like we’re public property so that they can do whatever they want to us and allow the unscrupulous to do whatever they want to us. Finally, all workers and customers alike must have the ability to come forward to report when we’re victims of crime or if we’re witnesses of crime. Customers are in a good position to help. There have been reports of customers helping people escape bad situations by providing rides, money, and cell phones. They should be applauded, not threatened, with public ridicule and having their lives ruined with a prostitution arrest and forced to go through those shame-based sex-negative diversion programs under penalty of prosecution.
What have you learned from your work as a national sex worker activist that you think Alaskans should know?
I have learned that the politics of oppression make for failed policy, which is what the anti-trafficking policies are, failed policies. Profiting off the criminalization of our labor is unethical, it’s un-American and un-Alaskan. If Alaskans are serious about stopping forced labor in my industry then they have to take on obtaining the decriminalization of our labor and gaining anti-discrimination protections before any legal regimes are implemented. Our class of worker has to be enfranchised. Nothing for us, without us.
* Click to download; Underlying Motives, Moral Agendas and Unlikely Partnerships:
The Formulation of the U.S. Trafficking in Victims Protection Act through the Data and Voices of Key Policy Players
Nicole Footen Bromfield Moshoula Capous-Desyllas