The Sentencing of Amber Batts

She worked to keep sex workers safe and free from pimps but Alaska charged her with trafficking anyway.

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  1. This Storify chronicles the sentencing of Amber Batts, a woman in Alaska who ran the booking agency Sensual Alaska. In 2014, she came to the attention of law enforcement when a woman placed a 911 call after her purse went missing. The woman suspected a colleague had taken the purse; her colleague denied it. In an attempt to get her colleague to give up the purse, the woman threatened to tell police about the colleague's ties to a prostitution ring. It was an idle threat -- made by an individual who was later characterized as not being entirely sober at the time.
  2. Police didn't forget. An investigation led them to the woman who had placed the 911 call -- specifically, it led them to an ad she had placed offering her own sexual services. The Alaska State Trooper’s Special Crimes Investigative Unit booked a session and an investigator had a date with the sex worker, recorded evidence of which was then used to coerce her into becoming an informant.
  3. Additional stings provided officers with more informants. After a series of coercive interviews, they had enough information to go after the "prostitution ring" Sensual Alaska -- one of the biggest escort booking agencies in the state. At its center, they found not a vicious trafficking pimp, but a former sex worker by the name of Amber Batts. She'd known what it was like to give her earnings to a pimp who cared more about getting his money than keeping her safe.
  4. In creating Sensual Alaska, Batts had streamlined the process of setting up dates and screening potential clients to ensure the safety of sex workers. Sex workers made themselves available to be booked or took themselves off the roster as they desired. No one was ever forced to go on any dates. In addition, Batts had rented an apartment to be used for in-calls so that sex workers could meet clients on their turf -- without needing to take on the extra cost or share their home spaces with them. For this, Batts took a small cut -- the smallest among such agencies.
  5. This article offers more background on Batts -- how she came into sex work, how she started Sensual Alaska, and what she hoped to achieve for sex workers:
  6. Three months after the "prostitution ring" had come to the attention of law enforcement, Amber Batts was arrested. Despite the fact that no evidence of coercion had been uncovered at that point (none was ever uncovered, in fact), both police and media refer to Batts and Sensual Alaska as a "sex trafficking business."
  7. This has to do with the law. In Alaska, anti-trafficking law is so absurd that a person who places an ad with the intent of trading sex for money can be charged with trafficking themselves. You can take a more in-depth look at Alaska's failed anti-trafficking laws here:
  8. Batts' husband was arrested a few months later, for helping Batts run Sensual Alaska:
  9. Because of Alaska's harsh laws, Amber Batts originally faced eight counts of sex trafficking in the first, second and third degrees. She eventually took a plea deal, pleading guilty to sex trafficking in the second degree (the act of managing, supervising, controlling, or owning, either alone or with others, a prostitution enterprise; procuring or soliciting a patron for a prostitute; or offering, selling, advertising, promoting, or facilitating travel that includes commercial sexual conduct as enticement for the travel), a class B felony.
  10. Quinn Batts, her husband, also took a deal, pleading guilty to sex trafficking in the third degree (which involves managing, supervising, controlling, owning, alone or with others, a place of prostitution with the intent to facilitate prostitution; inducing a person 20 years of age or older to engage in prostitution; receiving or agreeing to receive money or other property under an agreement that it is derived from prostitution; or engaging in conduct that aids a prostitution enterprise), a class C felony.
  11. At Amber Batts' sentencing hearing last week, sex workers and sex worker rights supporters showed up to offer support -- and see how the anti-trafficking law would play out.
  12. On the case was Judge Philip Volland. Assistant Attorney General Adam Alexander was the prosecutor, and the defense was undertaken by the Assistant Public Advocate Brenden Kelley of the Office of Public Advocacy (OPA).
  13. Sex worker advocates submitted a letter and a series of objections. Tara Burns, a former sex worker who now researches the impact of legislation and policy on sex workers and victims of trafficking was there, chronicling the proceedings:
  14. The first objection dealt with the 911 call in which the woman whose purse was stolen indicated she may be a trafficking victim when she threatened to expose the "prostitution ring."
  15. The prosecution admitted Batts had not used any type of coercion to get women to work for her:
  16. The judge was aware of the services that Batts provided for sex workers who booked through Sensual Alaska:
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