The cameras follow as several Anchorage Police Department officers burst into a hotel room where an undercover police officer has been with an alleged prostitute. "The team moves in, but the camera crew hangs back, so the suspect can dress," a voice narrates on Season 2, episode 12 of the now defunct Alaska State Troopers reality show.
The show aired in 2011, but I didn't watch it until 2013 when I really started to wonder how often prostitution and sex trafficking laws were used to help or to harm people who work in Alaska's sex trade. My curiosity sprung from my own experiences with law enforcement as a juvenile sex trafficking victim back before sex trafficking laws existed, and from stories I heard from other sex workers about their experiences with law enforcement. In the beginning my curiosity led me to make records requests. Eventually I finished a master's degree in social justice with a thesis on the lived experiences and policy recommendations of 48 people with recent experience in Alaska's sex trade.
When the cameras do enter the room the undercover officer stands up from the bed in his underwear. The woman-the alleged prostitute-is fully clothed and already cuffed. The camera zooms in momentarily on her hands resting on her ass, a towel, officers wiping something from her hands. Is it lotion? Is it sperm?
"When they slapped cuffs on me I had massage oil on my hands," the woman later told me. "I had just touched the cop's penis right before they busted in and cuffed me ... I asked over and over again to wipe it off. The idea of icky oil with dick germs on it just sitting on my hands grossed me out. Had the session gone normally I would have been able to wash up on my own accord. Not being free to wash that oil off my hands really pissed me off. They were trying to 'save' me but they didn't care what kind of germs they were allowing to sit on my skin. For all I know the guy had an STD They had me for maybe 30 minutes with that shit on my hand."
Now she's sitting in a hotel chair, Sergeant Kathy Lacey standing over her, then sitting across from her. She's nameless. She's a fallen woman with her face blurred but not quite enough to hide her identity from those who know her. Her voice is slightly disguised, pleading but firm as she tells Sergeant Lacey this is her first time, she's never done it before, she just needed the money.
Sergeant Lacey is thin, almost frail, with teased brown hair. More makeup adorns her face than that painted on most of the sex workers who have been my coworkers over the last couple of decades. She threatens the handcuffed woman: "You are very likely to end up dead in this line of work. We have someone right now in the state of Alaska that is a serial killer."
"She tried to make me think there was some serial killer out there preying on working girls," the woman said. "I was mostly concerned with the fact that the video crew was still filming me after I asked not to be filmed. They were using the reflections in the window I was looking out of to get an image. I honestly was thinking more about that than the questions."
In fact, there have been a string of disappearances and murders of Alaskan sex workers. In 2003 the dismembered torsos of two murdered sex workers washed up on Turnagain Arm. Their killer has yet to be found. A February 11, 2016 blog post at Alaska Unsilenced counted nine sex workers who have been murdered in or disappeared from Anchorage between 1988 and 2014, all cases as yet unsolved by the Anchorage Police Department.
"We should stop calling it prostitution; we should call it sexual exploitation," Sergeant Lacey told Truthout-a progressive news website-in 2014. "I think any time that a woman is selling her body for sex, it should be illegal. It's very degrading and exploitive."
After her arrest was broadcast on the Alaska State Troopers reality show, the faceless sex worker was ordered to pay $750 to the Municipality of Anchorage. At the rate an Anchorage PD decoy "prostitute" quoted customers in the same episode-$200 an hour or $140 per half hour-she would have to have sex with four to six clients to pay the Municipality of Anchorage. She was ordered to provide the court with her HIV, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B test results-results which popped up on the screen in some cases as part of the public record when I visited the courthouse to look at electronically archived prostitution public records years later.
In a recent book, Saloons, Prostitutes, and Temperance in Alaska Territory, Catherine Holder Spude called these fines a "sin tax," noting that arrests were so regular that it seemed prostitutes effectively arrested themselves to the magistrate's office every 91 days to pay the fine. The book noted that prostitution arrests were necessary to appease the moralizing but that "the women of the restricted district and the men of city hall had cooperated in keeping a low profile regarding the [prostitution] district, to each other's benefit."
In 2012, at the urging of Sergeant Lacey, who heads up the Anchorage Police Department's Vice Department and Jolene Goeden, a special agent with the FBI's Project Innocence Lost Alaska, then Governor Sean Parnell crafted a new sex trafficking law.
"Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable in our society-young girls and boys who may have tragically experienced varying levels of physical and sexual abuse and are often homeless," Governor Parnell wrote. "The most frequent entry age into prostitution for girls is 12 to 14 years old. We believe that any child engaged in prostitution (under the age of 18) is being trafficked, and thus, is a victim of a severe and serious crime rather than a prostitute."
Ironically this language was quoted in a motion to dismiss charges against the second person to be charged under the new sex trafficking law-an independent sex worker charged with trafficking herself.
"This commentary recognizes the legislature's understanding that trafficking is something done to prostitutes rather than something done by prostitutes " her attorney wrote. "[The defendant] must not be charged with trafficking herself."
At the end of 2013 when I made a public records request to see how Parnell's new state law was being used, every single person to have been charged with sex trafficking was an alleged prostitute who was charged with prostitution of herself in the very same case in which she was charged with sex trafficking. The laws especially targeted sex workers who worked together to increase their own safety by sharing space or information about prospective clients. It also included sex workers who "institute, aid, or facilitate prostitution" which was broadly defined by prosecutors to include aiding or facilitating their own prostitution.
"The women work seven days a week; all their earnings go to someone else," Sergeant Lacey told Alaska Dispatch News in September of 2014, referring to a massage parlor bust where one woman was arrested and charged with prostitution. No traffickers, pimps, or any other people were charged.
The charging documents against the woman read simply, "An undercover FBI agent entered the Daybreak Massage Parlor. Defendant agreed to perform oral sex on the undercover agent in exchange for $70." She was ordered to give $250 of her earnings to the Municipality of Anchorage, in violation of the Municipality's own law against accepting money from a prostitute.
In another article, Truth Out reported that Sergeant Lacey rejects any distinction between sex trafficking and prostitution, saying that the women she sees are all pushed into selling sex by abuse or force.
Sergeant Lacey said, "It's not like [a prostitute] goes out on a date and she makes four hundred dollars, and she gives two hundred to him and she keeps two hundred. In most cases she gives everything to him." Where were the people who were taking all these women's money?
In addition to Parnell's new state law, pimps or sex traffickers could also be charged under federal or municipal law. Federally, sex trafficking is defined as the use of force, fraud, or coercion, or the presence of minors in the commercial sex industry. In 2008 and 2009 two very violent sex trafficking cases were charged federally in Alaska, but none have been charged in recent years. The Municipality of Anchorage has a long list of crimes to charge pimps or sex traffickers with, including things like "Transporting for Unlawful Purposes," and "Accepting money from a prostitute" (if you're interested, check out Anchorage Municipal Code 8.65.020-8.65.110).
Trying to locate evidence of the evil men Sergeant Lacey claimed were taking all the money from sex workers, I made a request of the Anchorage prosecutor for all charges filed under Anchorage's municipal codes in 2013 and 2014. There were no charges against anyone for transporting a prostitute, having a place of prostitution, accepting money from a prostitute, etc. The only people who had been charged were 34 sex workers and 22 clients.
Did none of those 34 sex workers have pimps, or even drivers for Sergeant Lacey to arrest? The sex worker who was arrested on reality TV told me that Sergeant Lacey took and kept her cell phone. Presumably cell phones like hers were searched for evidence of pimping and even "transporting for unlawful purposes." If there were traffickers involved in any of those 34 prostitution cases Sergeant Lacey could have found them.
On the other hand, charging documents sometimes presented evidence of third parties who could have been charged with trafficking. For example, in one case the charging document alleged that the undercover detective (UC) "asked how much she would charge for 'straight sex, nothing kinky.' [The defendant] began texting someone on her cellular phone and UC asked if she was going to text the entire time. She explained that she was texting her honey to see how much to charge. Shortly thereafter, [the defendant] received a reply text and advised UC that the price would be $300 for one hour." The woman was convicted of practicing prostitution and ordered to pay $250. Her honey was not charged under state, federal, or municipal law.
Under Parnell's new state sex trafficking law there was one 2014 trafficking charge that Sergeant Lacey's vice department worked on with the FBI. A woman was charged with sex trafficking in the third degree-having a place of prostitution. She was a sex worker.
The charging documents describe detectives' interactions with her (or a person who they thought was her based on her driver's license photo), like this: "After she instructed him to turn over, onto his back, she offered to perform a sex act. When the [undercover employee] said that he wanted sexual intercourse, she agreed, in exchange for $120. The UCE then paid her an additional $80 more, over and above the $40 he had paid her [for the massage]."
In reference to another sex worker the same charging document describes, "[the officer] pointed to his penis with his left hand and motioned like having being [sic] manually masturbated with his right hand. [The woman] looked at the door that was ajar to the room and then looked back down over Det. Dojaque's penis and reached her hand under the towel, touching his penis."
Despite the apparent lack of actual pimps, sex traffickers, or exploiters, Anchorage prosecutor Cynthia Franklin wrote in an undated letter apparently sent in 2013 to the Defense Bar stating that, "Prostitutes usually are not making money for themselves but are under the control of human traffickers or pimps." She continued that her office would be "holding buyers responsible for their part in creating the market for human flesh" by increased prosecution and fines for both soliciting prostitution and practicing prostitution.
In a motion for discovery in a 2013 soliciting for prostitution case a lawyer wrote, "Counsel is also aware, based on statements made by federal prosecutors, of the fact that [Anchorage Police Department] has benefitted from the receipt of federal resources in the form of grants for work related to sex trafficking." The attorney requested information about the money Anchorage PD had received to combat sex trafficking. Rather than provide it, the Municipality of Anchorage dropped the case.
If the Anchorage Police Department did receive federal funds to fight sex trafficking, where did that money go? Was it used for sting operations against alleged prostitutes and their clients, for which courts issued well over $12,000 in fines in 2013 and 2014? If the purpose of those stings was to fight sex trafficking, why didn't Anchorage PD go after third parties, like the "honey" who was texting a sex worker how much to charge?
Under Anchorage's own municipal code (8.65.080) it is a class A misdemeanor to "knowingly accept, receive, levy or appropriate money from the proceeds or earnings of a person engaged in prostitution." Under federal law (22 USC 7102 (9-10)) it is a severe form of human trafficking to use coercion to induce a commercial sex act. The threat of incarceration if one does not come up with a fine quickly could be interpreted as such coercion. Under Alaska state law (AS 11.66.130) it is a class C felony to "receive or agree to receive money derived from prostitution." At well over $12,000 in just two years though, one wonders if the Municipality of Anchorage's "sin tax" might be considered a "prostitution enterprise"-a class B felony under AS 11.66.125.
"There have been instances of sexual misconduct by police officers, without a doubt," Sergeant Lacey told the Laura Flanders Show, a news and interview show on the Telesur network, (I appeared in the same episode talking about arrest statistics). "We had one here in Anchorage. That is just gonna happen."
People with recent involvement in Alaska's sex trade who I interviewed for my graduate research on the life experiences and policy recommendations of people in Alaska's sex trade agreed with Sergeant Lacey on this point: that just happens. A little over a quarter of the sex workers I surveyed reported being sexually assaulted by a police officer. Of those who had been victims of force, fraud, or coercion within the sex industry, 60 percent reported having been sexually assaulted by a police officer.
"I knew a couple ladies who went to go see a guy together who turned out to be a police officer," one Anchorage sex worker told me. "He gave one of the girls-that was only 19 at the time-alcohol. He also received oral sex from one of the ladies and then arrested her and said that he had seen her reviews online and wanted to see for himself what [her positive reviews were] all about. She got a prostitution charge."
In the early part of 2015 Sergeant Lacey retired and the Anchorage Police Department quietly stopped talking quite so much about sex trafficking. Vice detectives from Anchorage PD did not return emails or phone calls for this article. In 2015 the Municipality of Anchorage only reported charging three men with soliciting prostitution; in two of those cases the man had assaulted or robbed someone and was also charged with those crimes. However, the legacy of Anchorage Police Department's attempts to "rescue" sex workers lives on in the relationship between Alaskan sex workers and police officers.
"I myself have had them pose as customers and actually complete a sexual act with me and then try to arrest me," another Anchorage sex worker told me. "However I didn't touch the money so they couldn't arrest me and, um I felt raped after. Completely raped."