New measure gives immunity to sex workers reporting crimes

The Anchorage Assembly chambers at the Z. J. Loussac Public Library in Anchorage.
The Anchorage Assembly chambers at the Z. J. Loussac Public Library in Anchorage. (Staff photo)

During its Tuesday meeting, the Anchorage Assembly approved a measure that gives immunity to sex workers who tell police when more serious crimes have occurred.

When the ordinance was first introduced two weeks ago it drew support from advocates, as well as several women who told the Assembly they had previously engaged in prostitution. Many testified they had encountered heinous or violent crime, but were afraid of reporting it to law enforcement for fear of prosecution.

However critics said the proposal was vague, difficult to enforce, and targeted a problem its not clear happens often Anchorage. Even after revisions, municipal prosecutor Seneca Theno told the body her office remained opposed.

But Assembly members like Eric Croft of West Anchorage felt the re-worked version of the ordinance was narrow enough to potentially boost reporting to law enforcement without many negative impacts.

“It’s not doing very much harm because, again, there aren’t that many prosecutions for this,” Croft said.

Under municipal code, prostitution is a class B misdemeanor. The new measure specifies a person who witnesses or is victim to a some class A misdemeanors can receive immunity if he or she cooperates in reporting it to police. The move is aligned with a similar provision in SB91, last year’s state omnibus crime bill.

The ordinance passed 10 to one, with Eagle River representative Amy Demboski opposed.

 

Elsewhere in the meeting, the Assembly voted to advance a complicated development project put forward by the Berkowitz Administration. The move opens the possibility of using a particular tax abatement as a tool for converting the outdated Department of Health and Human Services building downtown into senior housing, and constructing new residential units in a section of Midtown Anchorage off Tudor Road. The proposal received some criticism for not working more closely with the Anchorage School District, which uses a nearby eight-acre property to operate its fleet of buses.

 

The body also approved a parking proposal from East Anchorage Assembly member Forrest Dunbar. The measure establishes a grace-period for leaving cars parked downtown overnight on weekends up until 11 a.m. the next morning.