Assembly passes ordinance to seek more crime tips from sex workers

 Anchorage Assembly members listen to testimony at June meeting
Anchorage Assembly members listen to testimony at June meeting (KTUU)
Published: Jun. 27, 2017 at 11:01 PM AKDT
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Anchorage Assembly passed an ordinance to give sex workers legal immunity when cooperating with law enforcement on an investigation or when reporting serious crimes to police.

Assembly member Fred Dyson argued it’s about giving sex workers the confidence to come out of the shadows and work more closely with the Anchorage Police Department.

“It is to make it safe for them to be proactive in reporting crimes that they know about, whether it be a witness, victim or hearsay,” said Dyson.

The ordinance was resolutely opposed by Anchorage municipal prosecutor Seneca Theno, who characterized it as unnecessary and constricting.

Theno argued the ordinance takes away a certain amount of discretion that investigators use on a case-by-case basis. She feared sex workers could report small crimes in order to receive immunity, and the code creates a “special class” that gives unique protections to certain people

“Trying to ascertain whose victimization is more significant or more worthy of protection is very difficult, and I think it gets us into a bit of a slippery slope, especially when we put it in code,” Theno told the assembly on Tuesday.

According to Theno’s testimony, prostitution is not a target by local law enforcement. She said her records show Anchorage has only charged one person with prostitution since the beginning of 2016.

One of the ordinance’s sponsors, assembly member Felix Rivera, submitted six revisions to the bill over the past weeks to ”narrowly craft” it to minimize the possibility for a sex worker to exploit the ordinance. The revisions, in-part, ensure sex workers report crimes in good faith, in a reasonable time and are fully cooperative with law enforcement to receive immunity.

The assembly approved the measure by a vote of 10-1.

“I’ve really gone back and forth on this one because I do believe there is a value when someone has more knowledge of a more serious crime to give them some sort of assurance so they won’t be charged with prostitution,” said Amy Demboski, who was the only vote against the ordinance.

“When I look at this from a criminal justice perspective, I’m looking at it like, what tools are you taking out of the toolbox cause the one thing nobody’s talking about is leverage,” Demboski said.