An Alaskan Life of Sex Trafficking

In 2003 I had two young children and my first husband and I were two months behind in our mortgage, a home we had just moved into less than a year before. I had been homeless before and swore it wouldn’t happen again. When I was in college I knew women that had escorted and it seemed the fasted and easiest way to pay our bills. I called the numbers in the free weekly paper where escort agencies advertised. Only one called me back.

The woman on the phone was quick and to the point.

When can you start?

As soon as possible.

How old was I?

I’m 30.

She liked my answers and I was given an address and told to come by.

I went the next day, a trailer across the street from where I had burnt out as a drug alcohol counselor months before.

A short fat Thai guy answered the door. His puffy round face swallowed dark eyes that darted around distrustingly as he stood in the entryway smoking a cigarette. When he let me in it became apparent it was just us. We appraised each other. I had at least two inches on the guy and although anything could happen I figured my chances would be better than 50/50 unless he had a gun.

He gave a quick tour and my flight or fight adrenaline calmed a bit.

Here was the living room with two well-used recliners and a small couch facing a boxy TV from the 80’s. Here was the narrow hallway with two rooms and a bathroom on the right.

The back room had a small narrow bed on wooden legs without a pillow, only a thin sheet covering it, the other room, across from the bathroom, a twin bed, no pillow, same thin sheet cover.

“Sheets are right here, always put clean sheet on!” he barked with a thick accent.

I nodded.

“Here is sink, wash, always take garbage out. Always!”

I nodded and followed him back to the small living room.

“Phone rings, answer it. Sometimes call, sometimes knock. I get half. All is $100. You okay?”

I nodded. Did I not look okay? Was I okay? What the hell was I doing? Is this real?

With that, he nodded and went into a room at the front of the trailer, where the kitchen and his bed were hidden. I sat and took in my surroundings. I turned the TV on.

I didn’t understand what he meant by “all is $100.” I had no idea what someone would wear on the first day of work as a sex worker. I had actually Googled “what escorts wear” and was bombarded with images of thigh highs and stiletto heels. I owned neither.

I went with casual. Jeans, a form-fitting t-shirt, not too much makeup, but just a bit more eye makeup than you would expect the average soccer mom to wear. I sat and waited. I needed $1200 in order for me and my two kids to not be homeless at Christmas.

Not ten minutes went by before a burst of blonde came through the door. She looked as surprised to see me. She was younger, but not by much. I later found out she was 24 and she went by Monica.

“You’re new!” she laughed. She didn’t seem awful or hateful. I was relieved to see someone who could tell me what the $100 entailed.

“Ever worked before?” she asked, plopping down her huge purse in the space between us on the couch, pulling out her makeup and applying more foundation with a sponge. She didn’t need any more makeup on.

“No. Brand new. ”

She put her sponge down and looked at me, her eyes seemed friendly. She half laughed.

“Okay, sooooooo…. A few pointers.”

She gave me the rundown, from what to charge, to how to take the lead in the beginning, to how to get him the hell out so I could get to the next client. It was too much. I really wanted to take notes but didn’t want to seem like a total nerd.

“Always get the money before anything, and if he’s a cop, he can’t get naked and touch you, so make sure he gets naked and touches you. Oh and don’t let him try to do anything without a condom, no matter how much extra he wants to pay. Also, don’t tell him anything about your life, family, name, kids. Not a good idea, ya know?” I nodded, really wishing I could take notes. I would write everything down later that night at home.

I didn’t know at the time but the part of the police not able to get naked and touch me wasn’t true.

“Name?”

Amber.

“Is that your name? Uh….no, your other name…your working name?” she smiled. She had perfect straight white teeth. Too white. Were they real?

“Miranda…?”

I became Miranda.

A few months later I felt I didn’t need Vui. I had been paying him half and knew enough to go independent so I joined finances with another independent sex worker I met thru Vui’s and together we rented a furnished two bedroom apartment. I learned how to put my ads in the free paper to advertise. It was expensive to advertise in the free paper but that was where everyone found us. I bought a business license so I could advertise in the regular newspaper. I taught myself how to post online. The phone started ringing at all hours and I had yet learned any boundaries. I ran myself ragged.

Other sex workers we knew wanted to use our incall location. Soon, there was too much traffic and the landlord started asking questions I didn’t know how to answer. I found a house downtown, it was in a seedy area but there was plenty of parking and had a decent fenced backyard where we could lounge half naked and listen to music. We were all in this together.  We outgrew that, so next up was a smallish commercial location. The landlord let me paint the walls a Pepto pink. I was smoking way too much weed to be able to make such encompassing decisions. It was horrendous. I bought ad space at the radio station to announce our grand opening. I created a snazzy website to highlight pictures and contact information for Excel of Alaska. We were a dozen strong by now, a sisterhood (and even one amazing college bi guy) were we could laugh and bemoan the idiocracies that only daily nudity and happy endings could entail.

Soon enough that space became small and I found a four bedroom two story residential home. I was happy to leave the Pepto pink palace.

Renamed The Parlor, the large house was fairly busy. Open from 10am to 11pm, we offered walk-ins and calls to the house to set up appointments, just like when I had started two years earlier. It was a business. Two blocks away stood The Chateau, a well known Alaskan brothel that had been in business for two decades, closed due to tax fraud. I made sure to pay my taxes.

At the house, we created community and desperately needed boundaries. I  read Veronica Monet’s Sex Secrets of Escorts: What Men Really Want and was able to get some valuable ideas on how to proceed. Really, up until then, we were clueless and just making things up as we went along. We held weekly meetings where we discussed issues that surfaced (like how we wanted to do or not do lineups, or what to do when we had an unruly customer) and signed up for our times to be on the schedule. There were anywhere from 8 to 10 of us, and at least 3 were scheduled per shift, with two shifts in a day.

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Three cameras were installed for added safety. We worked together and made money. We laughed and bitched about our lives. We paid our bills and provided for our families. Some put themselves through school to learn massage or obtain esthetician certifications.

Things went smoothly until one night we were burglarized. It happened when we were closed and it was caught on the cameras. I knew it had to have been someone who worked there at one point because they knew where the drop box was. I invested in a large safe the size of a filing cabinet and bolted it to the floor. Then we were robbed. I wasn’t there, but several ladies were, including one of my closest friends. The bullet fired came inches from her head when the robbers became upset that the safe couldn’t be opened. 

The police did nothing to investigate. Instead, a few weeks later, they did a prostitution sting that I learned about one morning when I came in and saw the evidence receipts on the kitchen counter. The police cleaned out the safe, listed $340 as the amount, and arrested two women. They quickly bailed out. No police officer ever came to talk to me.

The final straw was the landlord coming over and tossing everything out, saying I hadn’t paid rent. I had, but it was to the man who had evidently been “subleasing” it, unbeknownst to me. I knew I could pursue legal remedies but I was exhausted. It was time to close shop and move on. 

I held a job at the local paper for a short time while I worked as an independent sex worker. I had got remarried during the time of The Parlor and things just weren’t working out. I got divorced and struggled with feelings of failure that I numbed by drinking heavily.

Months later I stabbed a man I didn’t even know at a bar. I was looking at 7 to 10 years. My kids were still young and I thought my life was over. Somehow I landed a “whale” client. I was given a hefty allowance and had no worries. The 7 to 10 years became ankle monitoring thanks to a private attorney and an agreement to pay the man’s medical bills. Still, I wanted to be self-sufficient, and I was getting older. A 401K plan and medical insurance seemed responsible and safe. I found an admin position at a gas exploration company where I was able to use my skills. I was able to utilize my degree and gain additional training in the human resources field. I remarried.

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Visiting my son while he was at Alaska Military Youth Academy, circa 2011.

In 2012 Monica, (the one who had imparted the valuable life-changing information my first night and who I had stayed friends with and worked with on and off through the years), fell upon hard times and returned to Alaska. I put up some ads for her. Never being able to go halfway, I created another website after another friend asked me to post and screen for her as well. Excel of Alaska was created. Within months I became overwhelmed and sick of the time wasters that called so I sold the business, website, and cards, to a young up and coming rapper who’s girlfriend was a few sex worker. I wished him luck. Still, it was hard to walk away. I liked the ability to make extra money and provide for my kids’ things I never had growing up. Plus, I was good at what I did. As long as I kept boundaries and not overwork, I would be alright. Sensual Alaska was created by lessons learned.

One of the things I loved about Sensual Alaska was the creative aspect of website design. I resigned the “knock or call” I had learned because of the need to screen clients. Dangerous things happened to many of my friends and the police never did anything to protect us. I utilized my computer sleuthing skills and completely screened clients before setting up appointments. I still had regulars from years before. I became pickier with who I worked with, not wanting to become overwhelmed. My motto was no drama, no drugs, no drunks.

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Happier times with my daughter and then-husband Quinn Batts, early summer of 2014 while we visited family in Juneau.
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Then-husband Quinn Batts and I on a 4th of July camping trip in 2014, days before I was arrested.

Fast forward two years.

July 9th, 2014.

I was adding some affiliation codes to the Sensual Alaska website as I sat at my kitchen table drinking coffee. Through the kitchen window, I saw someone I didn’t recognize walk to my door.  I felt shaky fear immediately. I knew something was wrong. I was a private person and people just didn’t show up at my house.  I was being robbed or arrested. 

As I sat on my porch with the lead investigating officer I was adamant that the independent contractor agreements were proof that I wasn’t a sex trafficker. I knew his tactics, saying he wanted to help me, that maybe I knew others in the business. I wasn’t the one they wanted really, but unless I knew some sex traffickers they would have to arrest me. I didn’t know any traffickers. I didn’t know anyone underage. I didn’t associate with others in the business, I stayed to myself and I assured him that if I did come across situations like that I would’ve called the police because victimizing people, especially kids, was horrific.

I hadn’t realized the laws regarding prostitution had changed in 2012. What had been Promoting Prostitution charges became Sex Trafficking charges. This increased the penalties, causing Class A Promoting Prostitution misdemeanors, punishable up to one year, being bumped up to Class C, punishable by up to five years. Class C felonies bumped up to Class B felonies, and so on. I was charged with eight counts of Sex Trafficking, all Class B’s and Class C’s.

Sex traffickers held women, men, and children captive and made them have sex. That wasn’t me. Everyone had their own key to the incall. We made our own schedules. We had contests with weekly prizes of who had the most appointments. We were a community, working together for safety, bitching about crappy clients and competing with each other on tips. It didn’t matter. I fit the broad definition of sex trafficking that was now Alaska law.

Sex work sure, but sex trafficking. No.

I was sure they would get it figured out. I was hopeful that the long-awaited trip I had planned with my now-14-year-old daughter, five days away, would still happen.

It didn’t. In the beginning, I had such high hopes that I would be able to resume to my normal life. 

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My first court appearance.   (KTVA News Anchorage)

The judge ordered the strictest bail conditions possible. Electronic monitoring (at my cost of $600 a month), a live third party at all times, and lockdown at home. And no electronics-phone or computer- in my possession. I was still on probation from my years earlier assault, arrested only 2 weeks before I had completed five years of probation without issue, so I was also charged with a petition to revoke probation since I had been arrested, an additional reason for increased bail conditions.

I was able to be out on bail with those conditions for a few months. I wasn’t able to pay my mortgage and had to ask friends to help. Friends brought food over so I could feed my kids, and my sister, who was my third party. After Christmas, right before my daughters 15th birthday, my sister decided she had to go back home. I found a new live third party, which was denied, so I went back to jail, my daughter returning home from school with her mom in jail, again. These were the darkest days of my life and I still recede to quiet places in my mind when I think of these days.

My attorney said I was looking at a 25-year minimum sentence.

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A court hearing with my OPA appointed attorney, Brendan Kelley, and his associate.

While I was out on bail my then-husband Quinn Batts was arrested for Sex Trafficking, charged because he had helped me run my prostitution enterprise. His part in my enterprise: he would grab the laundry from the incall.

The State used him as a bargaining chip when they did offer me a plea deal; plead guilty to a Sex Trafficking Class B felony, and he would be able to plead guilty to a Sex Trafficking Class C felony charge. I would have open sentencing, with six to ten years, per judge discretion, and he would have five years, with five years suspended. It was too risky to fight my case, although my attorney was opinionated and exceptional, this was the best outcome.

As per part of the plea deal was I was allowed to bail out again, same conditions minus the live third party. I had the summer to get things in order. I spent every moment I could with my family, with loved ones. I had so much fear of missing my daughter’s high school years.

I contemplated suicide.

I contemplated cutting off the monitor and running away.

I took life day by day and stood as tall as I could at my sentencing, which turned out to be two-day ordeal, beginning on Friday, August 14th, where it was continued and I gratefully had the weekend to be with my children.

On Monday, August 17th, 2015 I was sentenced to five and a half years, just as my daughter started her first year in high school. I was remanded at sentencing. I had remained hopeful the judge would allow me ankle monitor or some other miracle would happen, still, I wasn’t entirely surprised.

Nervous, I tried to make small talk with the female trooper transporting me from the courthouse to the Anchorage Jail. She was quiet until we were waiting at the Anchorage Jail as I was turned over for intake. She told me I was lower than the scum on the bottom of her shoe. I was so angry. I knew then that I was marked as a sex trafficker in the eyes of society.

I walked the yard after being transferred to Hiland Mountain Correctional Center mulling over the day when I could and would speak up for myself. I knew that I wasn’t a piece of shit person and had a long road before me dealing with how society saw me. What would I say? What could I say?

While at the halfway house I faced additional harassment from staff because of my charge. My teenage daughter wasn’t allowed to visit me unless her biological dad brought her in. A man I had divorced when she was three years old and had a wife that did not want him to bring our daughter to visit me.

Because I had the word “sex” in my crime staff and probation officers, people that had control over my life and what and where I could go, made limiting choices for me. The home I had raised my kids in I had to sell since the mobile home park saw my name splashed all over the media and refused to allow me to return. I lost the two dogs I had for over seven years, my son, although by then a young man, became essentially homeless. I told myself I would be okay, it was all just material belongings. Yet even now I have moments of anger coupled with anxiety.

Yes. I was a sex worker.

Yes, I screened clients and set up appointments for myself and others.

And yes I have a sex trafficking charge.

Because of this, I have stuck with my minimum wage job as a server, a job I found while I was at the halfway house. I lucked out and was able to rent a room from a friend, and when she moved out I was able to take over the lease, but before that finding anyone that would rent to me was impossible. To be homeless would mean my daughter couldn’t live with me. To be homeless would mean going back to jail because on electronic monitoring, you had to have an address and a landline for the equipment. 

On November 14, 2018, I was granted discretionary parole. I was scheduled to see my parole officer twice a month, which after a few months was changed to once a month.

I am sure Alaska hoped I would go away quietly, grateful for the five years I was sentenced to. Yet, I was given more consequences than readily visible at my sentencing. My charge limits me because society hears “sex trafficking” and has a preconceived view of what that is, not entirely dependent on individual morals. Truly, when “sex trafficker” is mentioned, even I get a distinct view in my mind. Law enforcement around the world has been well funded by the End Demand movement and the term “consensual” might as well mean “immoral” to many.

Sex workers have been removed from the discussion and the systematic killing of both consent and autonomy has been removed by FOSTA/SESTA. This has seemed to be instrumental in the quelling of numerous deaths of sex workers, vastly ignored by mainstream media. Only sensationalism stands strong, while border agents are serial killers and once vibrant and safe sex workers are found strangled in the park or shot multiple times by police.

I am active in being a part of changing the laws that criminalize sex workers working together for safety and security. We need decriminalization of sex work in order to realistically fight sex trafficking, as well as combat the violence and stigma that sex workers face daily.

I speak up and tell others my story in hopes that more people will understand that sex trafficking and sex work are two very different things. Consent. Consensual. These are terms that have been drowned out by the moral crusaders that say anyone selling their body is unworthy of making an informed decision. The sensationalism of sex trafficking has permeated societies view of sex workers in a very systematic way.

I will not sink quietly into the backdrop. I will write about it. It’s my truth and I get to tell it. I am due to be off parole, with no further legal entanglements this upcoming December 2018.

The last few years have not made me bitter, but instead, have caused me to take a look at what I believe in and what I am willing to risk for my freedom of choice. 

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January 2018 in Las Vegas at the Women’s March, with some kick-ass Las Vegas sex worker crusaders.


Why we are the way we are

Freedom of expression and public opinion is democracy in action, and media can be the high traffic bridge that connects us, as individuals, with what is going on around us. Media shines a light on issues, both near and far from us. Media can also expose differences and actions that are not in the public interest.

On one hand, media shows us what “they” want us to see. It’s influence on an issue is not necessary the greater public beliefs, but rather a belief of what is being fed to the writer, to the news, or someones own personal view on the issue. If it lacks transparency, if it feeds us incorrect stats, it can be damaging. This undermines democracy and instead creates a witch hunt. Does this mean all media, journalism, news, Facebook, blogs are fed by an interest group? Not always, not usually, but sometimes.

On a local level, I have seen the news, online and televised, focused on issues that are easily sensationalized. I am talking about Senate Bill 91 here, and in full disclosure, I have a personal opinion to the positive aspects of what is can do for us, as Alaskans. Others have personal opinions regarding how its not working. Regardless, in order to understand an issue, I have always tried to see the other side. And the other side is angry. The other side is also confusing the Senate Bill 91 with homelessness, vagrancy, and what happened when “so and so was sentenced four years ago”. I have read the headlines of “spiraling crime” and am a part of some Facebook crime groups. Luckily, or unluckily for us, depending on who you ask, is a greater ability for shared information and how in turn it makes media and any spin accessable. Media and public opinion can be influential in policies that affect us, as Alaskans. People have a voice, even if its biased. Even if it is led by misinformation. Even if it is negligent.

Access to information is important for democracy and helps us make informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. There is a shortcoming, as there always is, being the issue of “how true the information is that is shared”.

Is the information slanted to one view?

Who does this benefit?

Where does the information come from?

So many questions to ask when looking at the validity of an article, newscast, debate, blog, Facebook post…the list goes on.

We believe what we want to believe, using our own lived experiences, what we have seen or heard before, and read before. If a newspaper prints something erroneously, the correction usually appears on a back page, near the bottom, in small print. The printed or broadcasted information is now the experience, not the correction.

Is democracy really a “government of the people, for the people, by the people”?

SB91 is a hot button topic for many Alaskans. Media serves as a means to convince an already frightened public that longer sentences are needed, that the old “nothing works” mentality from the 1970’s is needed again. Thus, a cycle of high incarceration rates, with few rehabilitative solutions, is seen by many as the only option. Remember, that is what we have had for years. And it wasn’t working.

Full disclosure, I am writing this with an ankle bracelet on. I have been incarcerated since I was arrested in 2014. I was granted parole and am due to be released in November, next month from the time of this writing. I am writing this in response to the public meeting I attended October 7th at the Anchorage Assembly. During the public testimony I heard many voices of concern, anger, and misinformation.

“Why can’t we use the criminals PFDs to pay for their incarceration?”

Per PFD website:

You are not eligible for a dividend if during the qualifying year you were:

  • sentenced as a result of a conviction of a felony;
  • incarcerated as a result of a conviction of a felony;
  • incarcerated as a result of a conviction of a misdemeanor if you were convicted of a prior felony after 12/31/96;
  • incarcerated as a result of a conviction of a misdemeanor and were convicted of two or more prior misdemeanors after 12/31/96.

Crimes before the SB91 was even enacted were brought up, one woman expressing frustration over her daughter’s killer not being sentenced, three years later.

This is a sentencing issue, and many are frustrated by this. And have been for years, far before SB91 was ever thought into existence.

According to one man, all homeless should be in jail, and it is SB91’s fault they are not.

Homelessness is not a crime.

Car theft has been on the uptick, and SB91 was to blame for this.

Another angry, misinformed Anchorage resident stated “If I burn this building down, it could be a Class B felony, but prosecuters would give me a plea deal, and it would be a Class C felony. Because I am not a felon, I wouldn’t have to do any jail time for it, thanks to SB91.”

No, you would likely be charged with a plethora of Class B charges, and a few Class C’s for good measure. A plea deal for a Class B would most likely be the scenario. See the statutes below, along with an updated sentencing chart. There are also things called “aggravators” and “mitigators”. That increases or decreases the sentence. Here is the link for those.

AS 11.46.400. Arson in the First Degree.

(a) A person commits the crime of arson in the first degree if the person intentionally damages any property by starting a fire or causing an explosion and by that act recklessly places another person in danger of serious physical injury. For purposes of this section, “another person” includes but is not limited to fire and police service personnel or other public employees who respond to emergencies, regardless of rank, functions, or duties being performed.
(b) Arson in the first degree is a class A felony.

AS 11.46.410. Arson in the Second Degree.

(a) A person commits the crime of arson in the second degree if the person intentionally damages a building by starting a fire or causing an explosion.
(b) In a prosecution under this section, it is an affirmative defense

(1) that no person other than the defendant had a possessory, proprietary, or security interest in the building or that all persons having such an interest consented to the defendant’s conduct; and
(2) that the sole intent of the defendant was to damage or destroy the building for a lawful purpose.
(c) Arson in the second degree is a class B felony.

AS 11.46.420. Arson in the Third Degree.

(a) A person commits the crime of arson in the third degree if the person intentionally damages a motor vehicle by starting a fire or causing an explosion while that vehicle is located on state or municipal land.
(b) Arson in the third degree is a class C felony.

See sentencing guidelines, past and present, 002_JU2016200423 .

Also, having an arson felony, you would be ineligible for electronic monitoring and doing time in a Community Residential Center.

 

One woman said SB91 had let someone fall through the cracks who was subsequently shot by police during a routine traffic stop. She was adamant that SB91 is at fault for the mans death, not the officer who shot him.

This is pointing to SB91 as the cause of the man being shot, not logical.

So what now? Viewing criminals within the retribution model, rather than the rehabilitation model, results in an increase of sentences, more parole and probation revocations and more arrests. These are associated with high recidivism rates as well (going back to jail once you leave, due to a parole violation, probation violation or a new charge). Parole/probation violations could be something as simple as interacting with another felon (maybe you met at a support group and went for coffee and fell in love), getting a dirty urinalysis, drinking at a bar, not having an address to list on you monthly probation report. There are many reasons to revoke.

The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) shows that Alaska’s crime rate dropped in national rankings, yet Alaska was one of the top eight states in per capita prison population. Alaska Courts took notice and knew something needed to change.

Even in this report, dated Summer/Fall 2011, the efforts of the Alaska Prisoner Reentry Task Force of the Alaska Criminal Justice Working Group (CJWG) collaborated on ways to improve Alaska’s justice system. The CJWG was co-chaired by Alaska Supreme Court Justice Walter Carpeneti and Attorney General John Burns. The plan had recommended examining laws, rules, policies and practices that resulted in incarcerating individuals who posed no substantial risk to the community; increasing prosecutorial discretion; expanding use of halfway houses; and augmenting therapeutic courts and other problem-solving courts for misdemeanants.

Alaska Justice Forum 28(2–3), Summer_Fall 2011

So here we are. SB 91 hasn’t been fully enacted and we are ready to throw out the carefully researched information that took years to forumulate because of what some feel is an uptick in crime. But is that really what is going on? Or is it the ability to put anything and everything out in media, our slants, our opinions, our voices, and call it truth?