Proposed legislation to criminalize police sexual contact with sex workers during investigations

The sign outside the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, March 4, 2016. (Photo by Megan Ahleman)

Law enforcement officers in Alaska can legally have sexual contact with people they are investigating for crimes. Proposed legislation seeks to change that.

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“(I) brought House Bill 112 forward to close a loophole and eliminate a gray area about sexual contact during police investigations,” said Anchorage Rep. Matt Claman, who sponsored the legislation.

He said he proposed the bill after seeing research conducted on behalf of a sex worker advocacy group. The statewide telephone survey was completed by Hays Research, which has run surveys and focus groups in the state for over a decade. It shows that more than 90 percent of the people surveyed didn’t know that police officers could legally have intercourse with sex workers, and they do not think it should be legal.

Sex worker advocate Maxine Doogan said current law only protects people who are in custody, not people who are under investigation.

“What happens in prostitution sting operations is that you’re in a state of being investigated, not technically in custody,” she said. “So police are allowed to have sexual contact as part of sting operations because that’s part of investigating prostitution.”

Doogan says multiple women have reported sexual contact with law enforcement officers to her organization, Community United for Safety and Protection.

A spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers said they have a policy against sexual contact during investigations. The Anchorage Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Fifty-eight percent of the people surveyed say they do not think the state should be expending resources “arresting consenting adults for prostitution.”

Doogan’s organization is also pushing for legislation that would expunge prostitution charges from a person’s criminal record and from CourtView. She says those public records make it hard for women to move out of the industry and take other jobs.

“When people have those really stigmatizing things on their records, it prohibits them from being hired in certain jobs,” she said. “So there’s a high level of discrimination against our population when people are looking to transition into other occupations.”

No legislation to remove the charges has been proposed yet.