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(Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News) Batts tried to work in offices, but she kept coming back to sex work.Even when she was running her business, she said, she also had sex for money. One woman she worked with was a single mom, recently out of school, who needed to pay for a new car. The main thing all of them had in common: an ability to disconnect from their bodies, Batts said.That's kind of what I found, whether it was an uncle or a dad or a brother," she said.Batts said she grew up in 14 foster homes and is a survivor of repeated episodes of abuse.In one of her columns, she describes helping police catch a man who abused her when she was 16 and living in a Juneau group home.After that, she wrote, she felt an "aching emptiness." There were ways that sex work seemed like an answer to all that had happened to her. She had stretches of sobriety, punctuated with dark relapses when she abused pills and alcohol, she said.Amber Batts, photographed in her room at the Glenwood Center halfway house in Anchorage on Thursday, Nov. Batts pleaded guilty and was convicted of sex trafficking in 2015. I contacted her in jail and, over a few visits, she told me about her life and how she understood sex work in Alaska.(Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News) Amber Batts, photographed in her room at the Glenwood Center halfway house in Anchorage on Thursday, Nov. Batts pleaded guilty and was convicted of sex trafficking in 2015. Our conversations underscored what I heard from advocates and investigators: Many women involved in the sex trade come to it as victims of abuse and exploitation and, eventually, a few, like Amber, may become perpetrators of abuse or exploitation themselves.
"What happened to the belief that America was built upon, that each man has the right to do what he wants to do with his own life as long as he does not interfere with his neighbor's pursuit of happiness? "It could be the woman wearing nice earrings sitting beside you at the coffee shop on her laptop, it could be the woman that is waiting for a bus somewhere," she said.(Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News) The first time Amber Batts traded sex for money, she said, she was 30. (Men, though, still account for the majority of sex-trafficking offenders.) When I pulled Batts' file, I had also been following the case of Troy Williams and Heidi Ross, accused in 2015 of torturing women and forcing them to have sex.She had two small children, her husband at the time was hurt at work, she said, and they needed money. He gave her the rundown: always get the money up front; don't do anything extra without a condom; don't do anything that doesn't feel safe; let somebody else know where you are. That's what I thought of as sex trafficking: force and a lack of consent. As I researched, though, I saw changes to the law in 2012 had struck the word "prostitution" from statutes and replaced it with "sex trafficking." Batts was charged with a crime that had formerly been called "promoting prostitution," but is now called second-degree sex trafficking.What they called sex work, what many people think of as prostitution, wasn't the same as true sex trafficking, they said.Supporters raised money online for her and her children.