Decriminalize prostitution in Alaska

In 2010, a self-employed sex worker arranged to meet with a client in an Anchorage hotel. She was neither coerced nor trafficked into the meeting. For her, it was a voluntary source of income like any other job. When she met this client, she massaged and engaged in sexual contact with him for nearly half an hour. Then the door blew open and vice detectives burst into the room and handcuffed her.

The client was actually an Alaska State Trooper. This woman was paraded outside in front of a camera crew for National Geographic’s TV series “Alaska State Troopers.” She was hardly given time to dress or clean up. She was humiliated and shocked that Alaska’s law enforcement would lure people into committing a crime.

This story actually happened. The sex worker told her story to the Huffington Post in 2017. Her story is one of many abuses suffered by sex workers in Alaska. It is currently legal in this state for police to invite, pay and engage in sexual intercourse with sex workers. The Anchorage Police Department fiercely defends this practice, regarding it as “investigative work.”

Dozens of stories compiled by the advocacy group Community United for Safety and Protection indicate that these investigative stings are rampant with abuse. One story in Alaska tells of a law enforcement officer engaging in sex to completion with a sex worker but declining to arrest her afterwards because she didn’t physically take the money. She left the hotel empty-handed. She told the Huffington Post that she felt like she had been raped, since the officer used his badge to obtain free sexual intercourse, antithetical to what she consented to as a sex worker.

These victims have no recourse for justice in Alaska. For one thing, it is unlikely that law enforcement will protect a sex worker from being sexually exploited by law enforcement. To them, it’s just part of the job. Additionally, sex workers are reluctant to report crimes to the police because their business is criminalized. Alaska’s sex trafficking laws are so broad that it includes all forms of sex work. This means that even self-employed sex workers can be arrested for trafficking themselves. This is covered under Section 11.66.120 sex trafficking in the second degree.

It is not enough to simply forbid police and prosecutors from doing this. The problem is with the law. For as long as sex work is criminalized, sex workers will continue to be abused and marginalized into dangerous work environments. Prostitution must be decriminalized and regulated in the State of Alaska.

The first argument is on the basis of personal liberty. A sex worker absolutely has the right to do whatever they wish with their own body. Voluntary prostitution should not be confused with sex trafficking. Alaska’s laws should not relax on the punishment of criminals who coerce other people into sex slavery. Rather, voluntary prostitution grants people the right to engage in sex work on their own accord.

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The second argument is on the basis of safety. Prostitution is legal in most of the other developed countries. They have realized that prostitution is going to exist regardless, so it is better to allow sex workers to organize brothels than to force them to work in the streets and hotel rooms. These brothels are regulated and secure. The workers are subject to regular STD testing and are entitled to workers’ rights and equal protection under the law. The clients are subject to background checks and are required to use condoms and respect consent even after payment. Rooms are equipped with panic buttons, so that security can be summoned as soon as the sex worker feels unsafe. None of these benefits exist for as long as we criminalize prostitution.

The results speak for themselves. When Rhode Island temporarily decriminalized indoor prostitution in 2003, researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research found a 31 percent decrease in reported rape offenses and a 39 percent decrease in female gonorrhea. Australian researchers conducted a study of their country’s legal brothel system and found that sex workers in the state of Victoria actually had lower rates of STIs than the general population, partly due to the frequent testing.

Decriminalizing prostitution requires the destruction of the stigma surrounding it. Many people still wrongly assume that voluntary sex workers are all uneducated, self-loathing women on the fringes of society. They throw around disparaging labels like streetwalker, whore and hooker. They ask what her parents must think.

This is dehumanizing and sexist. In reality, sex workers who operate in countries that support and protect them report mental health and well-being consistent with the general population. Male sex workers also participate widely in the industry. Clients are also more diverse than the “lonely john” stigma assumes. Legal sex work opens the door for the individual trying to understand his or her sexuality, the middle-aged couple looking to spice things up or the overworked professional who desires intimacy but lacks time for dating.

Sex work can be a safe, healthy and respectable occupation. Nothing realistic is sacrificed and so much is achieved if we decriminalize it. In Alaska, you can have consensual sex with anyone you want to and it is not a criminal issue. But if money is involved, then it becomes a crime.

That’s absurd. Not only is it a violation of personal liberty, but it also directly contributes to the rampant abuse of sex workers in this state. Contact your legislators in Juneau and get this fixed.