Alaska spent $827,200 on a special Sex Trafficking Crimes Investigations Unit in 2012, and it found no sex trafficking to investigate. Meanwhile, there are dozens of young people here in Alaska who’ve fallen through the gaping holes at the bottom of the system and find prostitution to be their best option – but we don’t talk about them. Maybe they aren’t exciting or sexy enough. The conversation in Alaska centers, instead, on children snatched off the street or lured away from the villages by pimps who keep them in chains or cages and force them to have sex for money they never see. This is a rare scenario, but it makes for better publicity and funding.
This conversation has been used to create laws and a whole political environment that harms instead of helps vulnerable children and adults in the sex trade. There is no real youth shelter in Fairbanks. Many youth and adults can’t access shelters that exist because of policies against their religious beliefs, mental health, substance use, or documentation. A large percentage of those homeless teenagers and adults will turn to prostitution as their best option. You could call them victims of the system, or you could say that they’re pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Our legislature isn’t working on innovative new laws that would create feasible options besides prostitution for these people. Instead they go after the pimps and sex traffickers, but – perhaps because actual pimps and sex traffickers are hard to find – Alaska has started to conflate completely self-directed adult prostitution with sex trafficking.
In June the governor signed Senate Bill 22, a mixed bag of laws about sex trafficking and other things, and promised to get the bad guys. Apparently they’re having a hard time finding the actual bad guys who are hurting women, because instead they are using these laws supposedly designed to help prostitutes to hurt them. Last week, the Fairbanks Police Department arrested an alleged prostitute and charged her with sex trafficking – of herself.
Totally self-directed adult prostitutes are now being convicted of sex trafficking. Sure, this makes it look like Alaska is catching pimps, but it actually creates more people who have few options besides prostitution: if convicted, these people will have a very small chance of finding a legal job. If they have children, they will likely enter the foster care system, dramatically increasing their odds of ending up on the street engaged in selling sex to survive themselves.