Sex trafficking victim advocates see benefits of recent laws, urge continued diligence

Published: Jan. 31, 2019 at 3:55 PM AKST
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While Gov. Mike Dunleavy pushes to repeal the controversial criminal justice reform bill SB 91, parts of the law that gave more protection to victims of human trafficking appear to remain in place.

The law gives victims of human trafficking protection from being charged for prostitution when coming forward to report their situation, and also changed wording the law so that a person cannot be charged with trafficking themselves.

Terra Burns, who works with current and former victims of sex trafficking through Community United for Safety and Protection, says the law is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done so that exploited people can be safe.

"I personally have been able to use that law when I was with a trafficking victim who had just gotten out of a really scary situation and she was having concerns about going to the police," Burns said. "We were able to go over the law and see that she couldn't be charged for coming forward, and we went to the FBI and she was able to make a full report. That was really exciting for me because that's something I had worked on here in Alaska for many years."

Burns and her organization want to see the same safeguards from prosecution extended to customers, or people who are buying sex.

"Most often in trafficking situations customers are our first responders. I've had a guy call me before and he's like, 'I went to meet this girl and there was this creepy guy standing outside the hotel room, and I went in there and she was like oh my God help me'," Burns said. "If they were to call 911, they could be arrested and their name could be in the paper."

Burn says another step in the right direction includes placing stiffer penalties on officers who exploit people they are investigating.

"Right now it's illegal for police to sexually penetrate or have sexual contact with somebody who's in their custody, and we just wanted that to be expanded to people who are under active investigation by that particular officer," Burns said.

A bill last legislative session sponsored by Anchorage Democrat Rep. Matt Claman would have put tougher penalties in place for peace officers who sexually assault people related to a case they are connected to, but the bill never made it to the house floor.

"We want to have a clear line in the sand that this is criminal behavior and Alaska won't tolerate it," Burns said. "So we're really hoping this year to see that reintroduced, and if it happens we're definitely going to need the support of our fellow Alaskans."

Rep. Claman tells Channel 2 he will not be reintroducing that bill.

More information on Burns and CUSP's work can be found


This story was updated Friday, Feb. 1 to add that Rep. Claman had responded to a Channel 2 inquiry on the bill he had introduced previously.