Woman pleads guilty to running a sex-trafficking ring, sentenced to 5 1/2 years

Amber Batts was sentenced to five and half years in prison after pleading guilty to sex trafficking in the second degree Monday afternoon. The defendant was running the sex trade business “Sensual Alaska” that served people around the state.

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Batts connected sex workers with clients who were pre-screened for safety concerns then she took a portion of the fee. She already has two felonies on her record.

State Assistant Attorney General Adam Alexander prosecuted the case. He says the case was not about the morality or legality of prostitution.

“Our hope in prosecuting broader sex trafficking enterprises is to create a safer environment for individuals who are caught up as workers in that trade and in an environment that people feel comfortable disclosing when they’re being victimized. And unfortunately our experience working on the ground here in Alaska, more often than not the people who are working in the sex trade are victims of exploitation.”

Alexander says many participants in the sex trade are vulnerable and have experienced trauma.

But sex trade worker advocate Tara Burns says members of the industry are being prosecuted for actions that make the sex trade safer.

“So we work indoors instead of out on the street. And that is being called ‘having a place of prostitution’ now, which is felony sex trafficking in the third degree,” Burns explains. “We share clients and we communicate with each other about clients to see if they’re safe – “Have you seen this client? Is he safe?” and that is now called a sex trafficking ring or a prostitution enterprise. And that’s felony sex trafficking in the second degree.”

Burns has worked in the industry for 20 years, and her organization Community United for Safety and Protection is lobbying to change the state’s laws. More than 30,ooo people have signed an online petition in support.

“We’re asking the Alaska legislature to repeal the new sex trafficking laws. We want to be able to go to the police to report crimes like sex trafficking without having to worry about being charged with felonies now instead of just prostitution.”

The laws passed in 2012. The human rights group Amnesty International recently adopted a resolution supporting the decriminalization of consensual sex work saying that it will make it safer for the workers.

Anne Hillman is the healthy communities editor at Alaska Public Media and a host of Hometown, Alaska. Reach her at ahillman@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Anne here.

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