Casualty in the war on consensual sex work: Alaskan woman sentenced for human trafficking- family being ripped apart

Amber

Amber

I spoke to Amber on July 22nd 2015

Amber was born in Alaska and has lived in Alaska all of her life. She’s the mother of two children, a twenty-one year old son who she cares for who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and turrets and a fourteen year old daughter who is about to enter high school.

Amber was living a stable life providing for her family by acting as a booking agent for other sex workers. Amber would extensively screen clients for safety, schedule sessions and she also provided a safe in-call location where the ladies could meet with their clients. There is a vast difference between what Amber was doing and what is thought of as ‘sex trafficking’ which involves force and coercion. The new laws have been written in such a way as to further criminalize consensual prostitution as well as sex trafficking.

When Amber found herself charged with no less than 8 counts of human trafficking she found herself suddenly living in a nightmare.

Like many sex workers I have known, Amber was working and living in a bubble of sorts- when you enjoy what you do, when you operate by a standard in terms of safety and consent, when you are surrounded by other adults who are also choosing to do sex work and who like doing sex work for a myriad of reasons, it is easy to forget that there are people in the world who want to see you arrested and punished for your personal private choices. Like many other sex workers, Amber wasn’t paying attention to what was going on in terms of legislation in her state. She had done sex work herself during a time before the more recent hysteria around the subject of sex trafficking. Nationwide the situation has evolved into a witch hunt and even though the narrative focuses on going after bad guys who force women and children into sex labor, people like Amber are fast becoming casualties in what really amounts to a war on consenting adults engaging in consensual prostitution.

Many sex workers have never witnessed instances of sex trafficking despite working in the erotic services trade, despite the popular narratives which attempt to conflate all prostitution with forced sexual labor.

Amber was working in an office setting in the human relations department when a friend who was doing sex work asked her for help posting ads and screening clients. Eventually this evolved into a website and Amber was screening and scheduling clients for a number of ladies. Based on my conversations with Amber she operated what amounted to an escort agency but wasn’t exactly living large. This was a means for her to earn a living while focusing on raising her two children.

Amber provided the screening of clients, bookings and eventually rented a two bedroom apartment where the ladies she booked could safely host clients. Amber accepted an industry standard fee for her services. I was impressed that Amber gave the ladies who had access to the in-call location their own key. This demonstrates the amount of trust and professionalism involved. The women were in control of everything in terms of what they were doing with clients.

This is not what ‘sex trafficking’ looks like.

Amber was home when she heard a knock at the door that would change everything. The voice on the other side of the door said he had hit her vehicle and wanted her to come outside to discuss it. Amber was suspicious and called a friend so someone would be on the phone with her as she opened the door to deal with whatever had happened outside. Once she stepped outside she knew something else was happening. As soon as she was outside she was swarmed by officers and agents some in full SWAT gear, military style, and all of them with guns drawn.

The agents were immediately asking her where the guns were, where the drugs were hidden, and of course they wanted any money she was keeping at the premises.

There were no guns, there were no drugs, and as far as money- she had $1900 cash in her purse which was intended for a trip she and her daughter were about to take in a few days to universal studios. That trip would never happen.

Amber says the agents interrogated her for several hours over money. They expected her to have large sums of money stashed in the house. She told them about the cash in her purse but admits she failed to tell agents about the rainy day money her husband had stashed under a mattress. Amber says her husband wasn’t exactly sure how much was there, but they guess around $1400 to $1600. This money was missing after the raid and was never entered into evidence. Since she failed to mention it, there is no recourse so someone got a bonus.

During her interrogation she discovered that the investigators had placed a hidden GPS device on her truck but at some point the device had apparently fallen off. The agents wanted to know where the device was and were threatening her with charges of tampering with evidence or obstruction of justice but she kept assuring them that she had no idea such a device was even attached to her vehicle.

The agents took both of her phones, her wallet, her identification, they took her laptop, her kindle, MP3 player, they took anything digital or related to the Internet including the wifi tower her daughter used to do her homework- as evidence.

After a thorough search through the home they took her into custody and Amber was charged with 7 counts of human trafficking (the 8th count would come later).

During the raid they wouldn’t call her by her real name. They mockingly called her by the pseudonym she used to do business, which was ‘Miranda’. Pseudonyms are used by sex workers to protect their identities and to ensure a measure of privacy and safety. Amber describes how agents told her what a great website she had and how they had read her blogs and how interesting they were, saying to her ‘it’s such a pity you’re going to go down for this’.

On the ride to the jail, the agent driving her kept calling her Miranda. Based on the way law enforcement was treating her, it’s as if she wasn’t a human being, she describes how she was made to feel like an object. The officers were laughing, having a good ol’ time and were amused by the entire situation. Her life was being ripped apart and they obviously found it all to be very entertaining, amusing. (This is how the police usually behave during vice raids and prostitution arrests. It’s all so very amusing and funny, quite entertaining).

On the way to jail she was thinking about how her and her daughter were set to leave on the trip for universal studios a few days later, the rental car was rented and paid for, the tickets, everything. Her daughter was very much looking forward to the trip. Meanwhile the cops are laughing and joking and all that Amber can think of, is how this is going to negatively impact her children and her family.

Amber’s teenage daughter had no idea about her work. She is very concerned about her son who is twenty-one and who is schizophrenic and also suffers from Tourette’s; he doesn’t deal well with stress. Amber was in shock. She says she didn’t understand that the laws in Alaska had been changed in 2012. She even thought she had done things in such a way as to protect herself from such a situation.

“The precautions I had in place to ensure I didn’t get in trouble ended up having no bearing whatsoever” Amber says. “I didn’t want to work with women who were under the age of 23, I didn’t want to work with women who were using their money for drugs. We thought of of what we were doing as a ‘co-op’, a support system, a sisterhood. Support was there if someone had a hard day, if someone needed child care, if someone needed to talk about what was going on in their family life, people were there to help. Most of the women involved- we knew each other for many years, we were family for each other. It still doesn’t feel real that this has happened” she goes on to say “it is surreal. When I think of things I’ve experienced in my life where no one was charged, yet here I am being charged like this, even though no one was being hurt, even though nothing was going on that was not consensual, yet this situation has turned my life completely upside down”.

Elle: Before the arrest. How did you get started?

Amber: I worked in an office doing HR. A friend of mine asked me to post some ads for her and to screen clients for her. I did that for awhile and then another friend moved back up from down south and asked me to do the same thing, so I built a website and put up an ad on backpage that I was hiring. It’s a lot of work doing screening, it’s a lot of work setting up appointments because people will cancel, or people will drain on you with their phone calls at times so I was really good at being able to have clear boundaries on the phone, being able to talk to people. I was really good at not just checking for safety- it wasn’t about safety from law enforcement it was about safety in terms of clients who might have kidnapping charges, sexual assault charges, robbery charges”.

Elle: so you were doing checks on these people making sure they were safe clients?

Amber: completely, yes. I belonged to different online forums where some of us women would leave comments when there was a bad client or bad experience I would share that on the forum so other people would know. There were other women who were independent escorts I would check in with them asking them about clients and vice versa, so it was more facilitating and managing. Once the outcall [was happening well] People (she was working with) wanted an in-call so I got a two bedroom place and managed an in-call location for a little over a year, pretty much a year to the day I got busted. The in-call was a place where someone would sign on- they’d send me a text saying ‘hey I want to work today from such and such time to such and such time’ and if an appointment came thru I would let them know- everyone had their own key to go to the in-call. It was expected that they pick up after themselves and to let me know when they were there, also to let me know when they were leaving, just in case somebody was hurt that way I’d know if anything happened”

Elle: so they (the escorts) definitely had control over what they were doing and for you to give a key, wow, that’s a measure of trust on your part and showing that a level of professionalism was there with everybody. Everyone working together and keeping the environment safe, sounds like a nice situation.

Amber: Yeah it really really was. I’m pretty easy going although I’m a stickler for three things, no drunks, no drugs and no drama. Other than that, everything went fine. So with the in-call location everything was fine. I was definitely not making a lot of money, with the overhead for advertising, supplies, I did my own cleaning my own laundry over there. When the girls worked multiple hours I would lower my fee. Instead of $100 an hour I’d make it $50 as an incentive for the women to do longer appointments, more money for them, less work for me. Everybody was happy.

Elle: how did the investigation of you even start? There was a woman who lost her purse and that was what started….

Amber: there was a woman who came from a different part of Alaska, she bought her own ticket, she paid for her own hotel room, a bed and breakfast kind of place she was staying at- she was going to be here about a week to work, she had done an appointment or so, and she had met up with one of the other girls and they hit it off. They made plans to go out that evening; they had a couple of drinks, The woman visiting from outside of town probably should not of been drinking, she seems that she could not manage her drinking very well, sounds like she lost her purse, she got into a verbal altercation with the other girl and she thought the other woman took her money.

The other woman said ‘no I didn’t’, and the visiting woman said she was going to call the police and tell them everything and the other woman told her ‘if you do do that you’re going to be messing with everyone’s money, you’re not going to do that because your going to screw us all, what are you thinking?’ I didn’t hear from the visiting woman again. She never contacted me the next day. I actually went looking for her, I thought maybe she was hurt. I couldn’t find her anywhere, and I really didn’t think she was going to contact the police or anything like that; then I saw she had popped back up from a town she was visiting and when I spoke to her she said she just didn’t want to work anymore and I said ok, fine. And so that is how the investigation began, because she did contact the anchorage police department. She told them she was working for an agency.

At that time there was some FBI thing going on (operation cross country?) and they joined forces with the anchorage police and started watching a little bit more later that same month. It was around June when someone else was in hotel outcall and it turned out to be a sting. The cops were going to arrest the escort for prostitution unless she told them who she worked for, and she gave them my name of course, and with that everything was snowballing. Shortly after that, I can tell from the documentation- that is when the GPS device was placed on my truck. I see in the search warrants the police requested info from backpage, as well as my Internet provider. square up was the company I used to process credit cards and they too were asked to supply info- we also accepted credit cards. The girls who had smart phones that could accept credit cards, I had them listed as vendors and they were able to vend their own credit cards for their clients as well. So the agents got all of that and the website.

Elle: and now, they ended up charging you with what?

Amber: they added an additional count after I had been in jail approximately three weeks, they added sex trafficking in the first degree, it turns out one of the girls who worked with me was 20. In the state of Alaska, in 2012 there was a change in the regulation in the law, the women have to be 20 or older. So I did not know about that change in the law. The woman who I had booked had shown me a passport that stated she was older, because that’s my sons age. I definitely know how to do the math on that part. And she had worked by herself, she had worked for her friend, her friends boyfriend who I considered pimping, she had done an interview with another agency in town and just didn’t like their business model, so I didn’t think anything of it, and I didn’t check her as thoroughly as I should have. So she was not yet 20 when she had worked for me, so they added sex trafficking in the first degree bringing it to 8 counts for sex trafficking.

Elle: so all in all you were charged with 8 counts of sex trafficking. You were acting as an agent. Everyone was adult age and were freely in control of themselves in every way, and now here you are a trafficker. You have since pled it down? Where are you right now with your case?

Amber: so with all this going on I posted bail. They requested two third parties. An electronic monitoring third party, and a live third party. So I was on house arrest. They made it so I have no wifi in the home, I could not have a phone, I have to have the electronic ankle monitor third party on me and I also have to have a live third party with me, always locked down at home, which is very strenuous for anyone to do in this day and age, to be locked down at home.

Elle: you can’t work now but you have to have $600 to cover the cost of the ankle monitor.

Amber: yeah. That’s another issue. I did have another third party a family friend and then my sister came up but she couldn’t do it anymore. We went back to court to get someone else on, but they (the court) said no to him so I ended up going back to jail. So I’ve been in jail for three months and got out on third party for three months and went back to jail again for three months and when I had another third party lined up that’s when the state offered the plea deal but said I couldn’t bail out at that time. They’d drop seven counts if I pled guilty to one count, a class B sex trafficking charge and we will let you go home on lockdown without a third party. So of course I said yes.

Elle: that was mighty generous of them wasn’t it?

Amber: so kind and generous. They removed the live third party. But the restrictions are the same for the ankle monitor. I can go out for counseling I can go out for church, and I have two hours a week to go get groceries.

Elle: but you can’t get a job can you?

Amber: no, no. Cannot work. The only reason I can leave the house are those three reasons. Completely locked down. It took a month for me to be able to have a phone. I have to call in everyday. Sometimes my husband would leave to go to work, or we were having problems and sometimes he wouldn’t be here, this has been very very draining on our marriage. My daughter, she would be at school or she would be at her dads. With no one here I wouldn’t have a phone to call in. So finally I was able to have a phone to call them. And to reach other people, because being alone stuck in your head [and in this situation] is kind of a scary thing.

Elle: [you] definitely want to be connecting with people. Your support group. It’s like they are cutting you away from any type of support mechanism you could possibly have. That support mechanism involves the people who are going to be able to help you pay for your monitor. it really seems to be designed to be a major uphill battle, an impossible situation. And here you are, not even guilty of trafficking anybody.

Amber: guilty without even being sentenced. You are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty this is what America was built on but because of the law changed and because of the third party requirements, I don’t know if they have that down south, it’s ludicrous here in Alaska to have this, I’m a lifelong Alaskan, I was born and raised Alaska, I’ve been in the same home for 12 years, I have two kids, I don’t have any charges that ever said I was going to leave, I don’t even have a passport. So I don’t understand their reasoning, that and besides the $600 a month to pay for my ankle monitor- by the time I figure how to pay for it, I have to worry how I’m going to pay for it again in two weeks because it takes that much time, I have to worry about food, toilet paper- we are out of milk we are out of everything. The only thing we have in the house right now while I’m talking to you on the phone is hamburger patties, noodles and hot dogs. We have those because someone gave those to us.

Elle: now before this happened you were totally stable, you weren’t living the high life or anything, but you had a basic life for your family, where you were functioning and you had your needs met, you weren’t struggling as far as where food is going to come from that day, you were doing something that you enjoyed and with other people who were their own free agents and doing something that they enjoyed with other consenting people, and you were contributing something. The other day you even said you felt that you were contributing something to society and I relate to that. I feel the same way. You are trying generate some positive energy, help take care of the people around you, being fair, being thoughtful, it’s a whole different world than what many people understand with all of the marginalization and stigmatization. Instead of broad stroking things it is time for a different understanding. It’s time for people to look at the varied realities which are involved here. Now you are barely functioning now this is hurting many people, not just yourself and there’s no reason for it. I can’t see a justification for it at all. For what the reality was for what was going on there, now they’re the ones who are terrorizing people, they’re the ones bringing the hammer down and smashing people’s lives.

Amber: yes I was able to pay my bills and do all of that. Now I’m on food stamps. I don’t feel great about that. I don’t feel that I am deserving of that because I am able and willing to work. I was able to provide for myself, now I’m at a point that I’m on lockdown for these charges and I cannot (work) I now have to depend on the state to provide for me. It doesn’t seem right. As a tax payer I would be upset.

Elle: you’ll now be separated from family members, you are facing how many years? 4-10?

Amber: 4 to 10 years and I have no idea what it’s going to look like because it’s open sentencing. I have a 14 year old daughter. That’s her whole high school years right there. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with my son.

Elle: from what I understand, you said he was schizophrenic? And you’ve been taking care of him, and now he’s not going to have you there, and for what? Because adults were engaging in an adult activity consensually? There was no trafficking going on here, no one doing anything they didn’t want to do, no one being damaged, people doing what they want to do and making money. Thanks to these new laws and the hype around sex trafficking, now we have all this devastation, and for what? I totally understand when they are specifically targeting people who are hurting people, children, they know how to do those operations where they catch child predators. There’s not a lot going on in Alaska (trafficking) Alaska was built on the work of sex workers when you look at the history of Alaska.

Amber: we have high rate of sexual assault and rape, assault in general in Alaska. It would make more sense for them (law enforcement) to invest their time in those types of cases. How about investing their time into solving some of those crimes? Actual crimes?

Elle: What you are saying is true in most states. Looking through the data available at http://www.policeprostitutionandpolitics.com where you can look through department of justice data and FBI data for every state, comparing arrests-cases of prostitution up against violent crimes; it is very revealing as far as where law enforcement’s priorities lie. Looking at the high number of rape cases- knowing about the many thousands of untested rape kits sitting around police departments, these cases are not being investigated with the reason being given as budget restrictions, yet they never seem to stop prioritizing investigating and prosecuting consensual adult prostitution.

Are there any final comments you’d like to make?

Amber: the last thing I’d like to say, women being arrested for prostitution- and now they are also arrested for sex trafficking themselves (yes you read that correctly- in Alaska women arrested for prostitution are also being charged with self trafficking!) this only further stigmatizes them for the rest of their lives, it closes doors. If they do want to stop doing sex work they are left with no options. They feel degraded and objectified by the entire criminalization process. From the point of the officer arresting them, to standing before a judge to having to explain all this to a potential employer for a job interview- it’s all really a barrier to moving on.

Elle: I agree. Sexual commerce between consenting adults- sexual privacy rights must be acknowledged as protected by the constitution, I say it’s a matter of when not if. It’s just going to take some time; sexual privacy rights in behalf of all consenting adults will be acknowledged once and for all, we just have to keep working to make this happen.

Thank you so much for sharing, it is important for people to know stories like yours, to know what’s happening. People who are healthy, stable and functioning are being arrested and their lives destroyed. Any future options outside of sex work are being diminished and with a prostitution record they will face housing and employment discrimination for the rest of their lives; which seems pretty counter productive. It doesn’t make sense. If the motives behind the narratives around sex trafficking were truly rooted in helping people, the damage caused by arrest and the subsequent criminal record would be acknowledged, and decriminalizing would be seen as the harm reducer it is and the damaging arrests would stop.

 

rights not rescue

Amber’s sentencing hearing was today, August 17th, 2015.

Judge Volland sentenced Amber Batts, mother of two, to 5 years for sex trafficking in the second degree and 18 months for probation violation.

Such is the legacy of end demand. So it goes with the criminalization of adults involved in consensual sexual commerce.

WE can make sure that Amber doesn’t feel forgotten. We can send her letters and books, we can add money to her commissary. As soon as we have a stable address where she can receive letters and be sent books (you must send books through a seller such as Amazon) we will post it here!

Amber will very much appreciate your correspondence!

If you want to send Amber correspondence or a money order to go towards commissary information on how to do so is here.

Please share Amber’s story, share on twitter, Facebook, anywhere, far and wide.

Thank you!!!

Please don’t forget:

SOLIDARITY IS A WEAPON

This is the problem.

The SOLUTION is DECRIMINALIZATION! what is decriminalization worth to us? Please support the ESPLERP case challenging the constitutionality of prostitution law. If you want to see an end to these damaging and unnecessary arrests, we need to make sure this case succeeds!

To support the case PLEASE donate to the legal fund.

To read about the case got to: ESPLERP.ORG

Read more: Tara Burns article on Amber at Tits and Sass.

Amber Batts case storify

Alaska reports:
More than 5 years after Torsos wash up on shore in Anchorage, cases still unsolved

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