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Trafficking v Prostitution: A Survivor Shares How Anti-Trafficking Laws Can Hurt Not Help

cuspReposted with Permission by M. Dante of SWOP-PHILLY

If you missed the  January 2015 Philadelphia Erotic Literary Salon (ELS): AK Trafficking / Prostitution discussion,  M. Dante candidly shared her background, explaining why she feels the current  implementation of  Anti-Human Trafficking laws harm more than help.

Join us as we continue to campaign for decriminalization of sex work in all forms.

M. Dante spent over two years visiting with sex workers in Alaska, and contributing to new research studies on the subjects of sex trafficking and prostitution.  The Erotic Literary Salon invited her to share her experiences. This is the transcript of the discussion, along with recommended resources:

Under federal criminal law, sex trafficking must involve force, fraud, coercion, or minors.

Alaska’s 2012 sex trafficking law redefines many things related to prostitution as sex trafficking.  Things that sex workers do to increase their safety, like working together (a prostitution enterprise), working indoors (maintaining a place of prostitution), facilitating prostitution (buying condoms, advertising, everything sex workers and sex trafficking victims do) and associating with each other are confused with media images of kidnapped children being held in sexual bondage.  These laws make all people in the sex trade (including those who are not there by choice) less safe, and less willing to report crimes (like sex trafficking).  Under these laws, outreach workers who give condoms to people involved in a “prostitution enterprise” could be convicted of sex trafficking in the third degree.

A December 2012 public records request showed 2 people charged with sex trafficking under state law, and both were alleged sex workers themselves who were also charged with prostitution of themselves in the very same case.  There had been 2 alleged sex trafficking victims and both were arrested and convicted of prostitution.  In total now, at the start of 2015, 7 people have been charged with sex trafficking:  4 are adult female sex workers charged with trafficking themselves or those they worked with, 1 adult female is charged with receiving money from prostitution, and the other  2 are adult males, though none have been accused of any force fraud or coercion, nor interaction with minors.

THE ESPLER PROJECT (ESPLERP), EROTIC SERVICE PROVIDERS UNION (ESPU), and COMMUNITY UNITED FOR SAFETY AND PROTECTION (CUSP) invited  me to  advocate and collaborate with them starting in 2012 when – after a 10 year break – I returned to sex work. My return to adult work happened amidst radical changes in state-by-state legislation pertaining to prostitution and sex trafficking. My most recent visit in December was to participate in memoriam for the victims of serial killer, Robert Hansen, and to share my unique personal story at the Anchorage acknowledgement of 17 December, the  International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, an annual event created by SexPert Annie Sprinkle in 2003 memory of the Green River murder victims.

After attending a recent Philadelphia Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-Philly) meeting, Salon Proprietress, Susana, asked me to share some of my “Alaska Experience” with ELS.

So first – Let me explain CUSP. Then I’ll share a bit of my history, followed by chat about the laws, along with offering information on sex worker advocacy projects. Hopefully next discussion, I can talk more about the social and spiritual benefits of DECRIM, along with hopefully even having some erotic reflection.

And also – to note – In the mid 1990s I lived  – in San Francisco – with SWOP USA founder Robyn Few when she was first exploring prostitution. This was prior to her federal arrest, which was her inspiration for founding the USA branch of the Australian movement. A lot of people – like Robyn – only become aware and political AFTER realizing the potential consequences of unfair legislation.

Sex work requires consistent, dedicated awareness.

Laws that affect sex workers, I believe, define our collective state of sexual freedom.

Terra Burns, student, activist and advocate explains:

We want Alaska to be safe for sex workers. Because the new legislation has made it really dangerous for us.  We want to be able to go to the police and report when we have been a victim of rape, robbery, or sex trafficking; without the threat of arrest. This year we plan to defeat SB 170 again (or transform it into something much better), make some of the things we do to increase our safety not felonies, get rid of property forfeiture for misdemeanor prostitution convictions, and make it illegal for police to coerce people into sexual contact or penetration. Police should not act with  reckless disregard for the fact that they are interacting with a potential victim, witness, or defendant in a case.  We are also aiming for anti-discrimination laws, similar to the GLBT anti-discrimination laws, and ultimately we want to be decriminalized and fully enfranchised.

So, you might be wondering now how any of this pertains to me: Your Salon Door Hostess, and community writer known for poetry, prose, and commentary.

In 2003 I presented my Goddard College BA senior study, XXX: A Cultural Exploration into Contemporary Feminism’s Relationship with Commercial Sexuality.  In the critical writing component I outlined a history of prostitution, and researched the evolving facets of feminism.  Also  presented were  samples of consensual sexual labor, samples of forced prostitution during war, and examples of human trafficking. The presentation questioned how women would be able to participate in the evolving global discussion on sexual labor and sex trafficking, when in the United States there seemed to be obvious disparity in the feminist views on sexual commerce. The second component was experiential, offering a collage of memoir narrative pages torn from past travel notes and  journals. Many of you may know I have history as an art and fetish model, exposure to the former BDSM industry, and yes, in December in Anchorage, I came out as a prostitute, which I have been on and off – depending on you choose to define prostitution – since age 16.

According to Federal Law:

Domestic minor sex trafficking occurs when U.S. citizens or lawful permanent resident minors (under the age of 18) are commercially sexually exploited. Children can be commercially sexually exploited through prostitution, pornography, and/or erotic entertainment.

The commercial aspect of the sexual exploitation is critical to separating the crime of trafficking from sexual assault, molestation or rape. The term “commercial sex act” is defined by the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act as the giving or receiving of anything of value (money, drugs, shelter, food, clothes, etc.) to any person in exchange for a sex act.

U.S. Department of State

Since survival sex and sexual barter as a homeless youth is currently considered a form of actual trafficking, I am now legally defined as a being a former victim of domestic minor sex trafficking as a result of having been on my own since 16. I was kicked out first at 13, and permanently at 16. As a result of being a homeless teen,  I experienced exposure to the sex industry, and utilized survival sex, eventually choosing “sex work” over “traditional” work.

My unique life experience is now being heard and contemplated by masters and doctorate students who have been referred to me, and who have anonymously interviewed me related to social work, health care policy, legislative policy, women’s studies,  and general studies including trafficking.

At the same time, I am in the precarious situation of still being somewhat dependent on the sex industry for my income. I also enjoy many aspects of the sex industry.  Because of my consensually returning to sex work in my 40s, I am potentially able to be viewed by law enforcement as both a victim of trafficking AND a trafficker.

This newly created legal reality is challenging for me to embrace, because from the time I was 16 all the way through my adulthood and entry into middle age — well — no one really cared much about saving me. At this point I do not feel I should be saved, nor blamed, as the trafficking discourse demands.

Though I’ve tried being objective about the reasons why federal and state legislation has evolved since 2000, and certainly since 2012 – not only in Alaska, but all over the country – a lot of the current legislative trend does seem to be directed by commerce. There is big money going to both NGO’s and law enforcement as they save the country from sexual slavery. None of that money, however, goes to people – like me – who are living examples of why these laws have supposedly been enacted.

This is one of many reasons why I have chosen to come out of the sex worker closet. My secret life is simply too big to fit under the bed or in my lingerie drawer.

In Alaska, via CUSP, sex workers, students, and concerned community members are working together as advocates to communicate with legislators. We – the workers – feel we should be included in the discussion on the laws that now define us.  And those new laws define us as felonious traffickers.

A tragic example of escorts and providers now defined as traffickers is the Amber Batts case. I met Amber in 2012, and I am deeply saddened by how trafficking legislation has been manipulated into the equivalent of a witch hunt to persecute consensual adults interested in safe, sane, sexual labor commerce exchange.

Is my working as a middle aged escort, dominatrix or surrogate how you define trafficking?

Probably not.


ˌprästəˈt(y)o͞oSH(ə)n/ noun

 1.the practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment. 

2.synonyms:◾the sex trade, the sex industry, whoring, streetwalking, sex tourism;

◾the unworthy or corrupt use of one’s talents for the sake of

personal or financial


CUSP’s immediate goals:

SB 170. We oppose Senate Bill 170.  All sex trafficking victims and sex workers must have access to equal protection under the law, and should not be arrested in the first place.  The burden of proof should never be on a victim to prove that they are the right kind of victim.

11.66.110-135. Sex trafficking laws. Should be repealed, because they have most often been used against sex workers.  Sex workers should be given access to equal protection under the kidnapping, sexual assault, assault, extortion, and labor laws that already exist.

11.66.100 Prostitution. This law violates our constitutional rights to privacy, equal protection under the law, and equal opportunities.  It must be repealed.

Anti-discrimination. The Obama administration in 2010 recommended that people should not be subject to discrimination because of their status as a person in prostitution.  We agree!  Sex workers and sex trafficking victims must be able to access social services, medical care, housing, education, employment, child custody, and financial instruments without discrimination.

AS 11.41.410. Sexual Assault in the First Degree:

We want to add:

(5) the offender engages in sexual penetration with a person where a person submits under the belief that the person committing the act is someone other than the accused, and this belief is induced by any artifice, pretense, or concealment practiced by the accused, with intent to induce the belief.

(6) the offender engages in sexual contact with a person where the act is accomplished by threatening to use the authority of a public official to incarcerate, arrest, or deport the victim or another, and the victim has a reasonable belief that the perpetrator is a public official. As used in this paragraph, “public official” means a person employed by a governmental agency, including a tribal government, who has the authority, as part of that position, to incarcerate, arrest, or deport another. The perpetrator does not actually have to be a public official.

(7) while employed in the state as a public official, or while acting as a public official in the state, the offender engages in sexual penetration with a person with reckless disregard that the person is a possible victim, witness, or suspect in an investigation. As used in this paragraph, “public official” means a person employed by a governmental agency, including a tribal government, who has the authority, as part of that position, to incarcerate, arrest, or deport another.

AS 11.41.420. Sexual Assault in the Second Degree.

We want to add:

(5) the offender engages in sexual contact with a person where a person submits under the belief that the person committing the act is someone other than the accused, and this belief is induced by any artifice, pretense, or concealment practiced by the accused, with intent to induce the belief.

(6) while employed as a juvenile probation officer or as a juvenile facility staff, engages in sexual contact  with a person 18 or 19 years of age with reckless disregard that the person is committed to the custody or probationary supervision of the Department of Health and Social Services.

(7) while employed in the state as a public official, or while acting as a public official in the state, the offender engages in sexual contact with a person with reckless disregard that the person is a possible victim, witness, or suspect in an investigation. As used in this paragraph, “public official” means a person employed by a governmental agency, including a tribal government, who has the authority, as part of that position, to incarcerate, arrest, or deport another.

Sec. 11.66.145. Forfeiture:

People should not be subject to property forfeiture for charges of prostitution or sex trafficking in the 2-4^th degrees (non-violent trafficking charges most often used against prostitutes themselves).  If you want prostitutes to stop being prostitutes, taking their home, vehicle, and savings doesn’t help.

12.37.010. Authorization to intercept communications:

There should be no interception of communications for prostitution or sex trafficking in the 2-4 th degrees.  This creates a dangerous situation where sex workers are afraid to screen new clients, and clients are afraid to be screened.

Copyright © 2015 Sex Trafficking Alaska, All rights reserved.


The ESPLER PROJECT is a diverse community-based erotic service provider led group which seeks to empower the erotic community and advance sexual privacy rights through legal advocacy, education, and research. In our legal advocacy, we seek to create change through a combination of impact litigation, policy statements, and voicing our concerns for our community in political arenas. Through educational trainings and outreach, we will empower and capacity build to address discrimination of erotic service providers and the greater erotic community. Lastly, we strive to archive and rate much of the research which has been done by and of the sex worker community, and build on this history with research which seeks to be increasingly inclusive, respectful, and ultimately, relevant to the erotic service providers and the larger erotic community.

The Erotic Service Providers Union (ESPU)

The Erotic Service Providers Union (ESPU) is by and for those who labor erotically to gain agency through industrial organizing for our occupational, social, and economic rights through affiliation with organized labor. Founded Nov. 2004 in San Francisco, California.

Sex Workers Outreach Project Philadelphia (SWOP-PHILLY)

Sex Workers Outreach Project Philadelphia [SWOP-PHILLY] is a grassroots organization and part of a national network dedicated to improving the lives of current and former sex workers/those with experience in the sex trade in the Philadelphia metro area, on and off of the job.

Project Safe

SAFE believes in every woman’s right to health and well-being as well as in their competency to protect and help themselves, their loved ones, and their communities.

Red Umbrella Project

Amplifying the voices of people in the sex trades through media, advocacy, and storytelling programs.

17 December

In the spirit of remembrance and healing, the Sex Workers Outreach Project joins sex workers, allies and advocates from around the world in recognizing December 17, the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. As we approach this day, we seek to come together to remember those who we have lost this year, and renew our commitment in the on-going struggle for empowerment, visibility, and rights for all sex workers.

On December 17th, We also renew our commitment to solidarity. The majority of violence against sex workers is not just violence against sex works—it’s also violence against transwomen, against women of color, against drug users, against immigrants. We cannot end the marginalization and victimization of all sex workers without also fighting transphobia, racism, stigma and criminalization of drug use, and xenophobia.

end of transcript

About cjasher (1649 Articles)
C.J. Asher is a blogger on various subject matters and trending topics related to sexuality, such as prostitution, women's rights, sex trafficking and LGBT issues as well as the adult entertainment industry, having interviewed celebrities such as Dennis Hof and Joanna Angel. C.J. currently resides in Philadelphia, PA and his blog can be found at

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