ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska organization for sex workers is trying to raise money online to fund an advocate’s work lobbying lawmakers in Juneau.
Terra Burns is leading the campaign by the group, Community United for Safety and Protection, to raise at least $1,500 through crowdfunding website Tilt. As of Tuesday afternoon, the group had raised more than $900.
“It’s really been really hard for people in Alaska’s sex industry to have any voice at all because of stigma and criminalization,” Burns said.
Burns, who doesn’t use her real name, is a 33-year-old Fairbanks resident and is staying in a camper in Juneau. She declined to give The Associated Press her real name to protect her safety and because she has advocated under Terra Burns for many years.
A bill reintroduced this legislative session would allow victims of sex trafficking to use that as a defense if they are charged with prostitution crimes. The legislation was introduced last year and passed the Senate before stalling in the House.
Burns and her group oppose Alaska sex trafficking laws, saying they work against sex workers and they redefine actions sex workers might take for their own safety as trafficking.
Burns plans to testify about the bill, sponsored by Anchorage Democratic state Sen. Berta Gardner, if it comes up for a hearing.
Gardner said she isn’t sure that a lobbying effort by Burns would be productive.
“She’s well-intentioned, and might very well be right about some of the things she’s saying,” Gardner said. “But we deal with the reality here of what it takes to pass legislation, and you can have a great, big, earth-shaking proposal, or you can bite off one little piece that won’t draw opposition from any quarter, and try to get that through.”
Burns said in an email to the AP that the bill is “basically a law about who can go to the police and report that they’ve been a victim of sex trafficking without being prosecuted.”
All victims should be able to report the crime without facing penalties, but “Gardner believes it should only be victims who’ve never willingly engaged in any kind of sex work,” Burns wrote.