Under federal criminal law, sex trafficking must involve force, fraud, coercion, or minors.
Alaska’s 2012 sex trafficking law redefines many things related to prostitution as sex trafficking.
Things that sex workers do to increase their safety, like working together (a prostitution enterprise!), working indoors (maintaining a place of prostitution), facilitating prostitution (buying condoms, advertising, everything sex workers and sex trafficking victims do) and associating with each other are confused with media images of kidnapped children being held in sexual bondage. These laws make all people in the sex trade (including those who are not there by choice) less safe, and less willing to report crimes (like sex trafficking) against themselves or people they know.
Under these laws, outreach workers who give condoms to people involved in a “prostitution enterprise” could be convicted of sex trafficking in the third degree.
A December 2012 public records request showed that two people had been charged with sex trafficking under state law, and both were alleged sex workers themselves who were also charged with prostitution of themselves in the very same case. There had been two alleged sex trafficking victims and both were arrested and convicted of prostitution.
Here are Alaska’s sex trafficking laws, which are also available at this link:
(1) induces or causes a person to engage in prostitution through the use of force;
(2) as other than a patron of a prostitute, induces or causes a person under 20 years of age to engage in prostitution; or
(3) induces or causes a person in that person’s legal custody to engage in prostitution.
(b) In a prosecution under (a)(2) of this section, it is not a defense that the defendant reasonably believed that the person induced or caused to engage in prostitution was 20 years of age or older.
(c) Except as provided in (d) of this section, sex trafficking in the first degree is a class A felony.
(d) A person convicted under (a)(2) of this section is guilty of an unclassified felony.
(1) manages, supervises, controls, or owns, either alone or in association with others, a prostitution enterprise other than a place of prostitution;
(2) procures or solicits a patron for a prostitute; or
(3) offers, sells, advertises, promotes, or facilitates travel that includes commercial sexual conduct as enticement for the travel; in this paragraph, “commercial sexual conduct” means sexual conduct for which anything of value is given or received by any person.
(b) Sex trafficking in the second degree is a class B felony.
(1) manages, supervises, controls, or owns, either alone or in association with others, a place of prostitution;
(2) as other than a patron of a prostitute, induces or causes a person 20 years of age or older to engage in prostitution;
(3) as other than a prostitute receiving compensation for personally rendered prostitution services, receives or agrees to receive money or other property under an agreement or understanding that the money or other property is derived from prostitution; or
(4) engages in conduct that institutes, aids, or facilitates a prostitution enterprise.
(b) Sex trafficking in the third degree is a class C felony.
(b) Sex trafficking in the fourth degree is a class A misdemeanor.
It is important to note that the application of these laws has resulted in some concerning outcomes. For instance, a public records request revealed that individuals charged with sex trafficking were often alleged sex workers themselves, charged with prostitution in the same case. This suggests that the laws intended to combat sex trafficking have inadvertently led to the charging of sex workers themselves and potentially leading to the prosecution of individuals who may be victims of exploitation.