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Anchorage considers updates to codes aimed at labor trafficking, prostitution

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 27, 2016

The administration of Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz wants to require certain types of Anchorage businesses, including assisted living facilities and restaurants, to hang up posters designed to combat labor trafficking.

At the same time, Berkowitz is seeking to update the city penal code on prostitution. Some of the changes are cosmetic, eliminating such old-fashioned words as "assignation." But he's also seeking substantive changes to the law, such as allowing people to beat a prostitution arrest if they can show they've been coerced into the business.

In a memo to the Anchorage Assembly, Berkowitz said the word changes reflect what he called "modern approaches to criminal conduct surrounding prostitution and sex trafficking." For instance, changing the word "solicitation" to "sexual exploitation" in city law reflects the idea that many people are forced into prostitution by violence or circumstance, Berkowitz wrote in the memo. 

The posters against labor trafficking would include basic information about the topic and phone numbers where victims can seek help, according to materials submitted to the Assembly this week.

The posters will be placed in assisted living facilities and restaurants, hotels and motels, bars, nail and beauty salons and "adult-oriented establishments," Berkowitz wrote in a memo accompanying the proposal. The types of businesses were selected according to common types of labor trafficking found through the United States, according to Berkowitz's memo.

The poster and prostitution proposals were introduced to the Assembly Tuesday. The legislation is the first to emerge from a city-state task force on labor trafficking that Berkowitz and state Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas convened a year ago.

First lady Mara Kimmel has had a seat on the task force, as well as representatives from law enforcement and government agencies, nonprofit organizations and Alaska Native groups.

"I appreciate the Mayor's work to reduce the incidence of human trafficking, including greater collaboration on investigations and by considering what the Municipality can do through its own ordinances," Drygas said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "We need all hands on deck to combat modern slavery."

Instances of human trafficking extend to employers forcing people to work against their will for less than minimum wage, for excessive hours or in conditions that don't meet minimum safety standards.

The proposed informational posters will be printed by the city health department, according to a memo from Berkowitz. The posters are particularly aimed at human trafficking victims, "who may or may not know their rights or how to find help," Berkowitz's memo accompanying the ordinance says.

"With all the research we've looked at, one of the main components that helps with human trafficking is education," said city spokeswoman Nora Morse.

The posters will contain a "very basic" level of information about human trafficking, as well as contact information for the local police and the FBI. It will also list a hotline for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline where anyone suspecting to be a victim of human trafficking can call for help.

In the memo, Berkowitz described the poster requirement as similar to other required employment posters, which provide information about federal laws about discrimination, polygraph, wage and hour laws and family and medical leave.

A public hearing on the poster proposal has been set for Oct. 18. The ordinance would take effect six months after the date of Assembly approval.

During that time, the city would conduct outreach to affected businesses about the poster requirement, according to Berkowitz's memo.

Berkowitz's memo also said the posters will be translated into the five most commonly-spoken languages in Anchorage — English, Spanish, Tagalog, Samoan and Hmong.

Berkowitz's memo said the posters will be printed in-house by the Department of Health and Human Services. Mail and printing costs were estimated at about $2,200, plus another $800 to translate the posters into four languages.

The prostitution ordinance is mainly targeted at bringing local law in line with national efforts focusing on trafficking, said city prosecutor Seneca Theno.

Theno said the proposal in part aims to recognize "that the industry of prostitution is by and large one of trafficking, and it comes in many forms."

Theno also noted the ordinance would reduce the penalty for picking up a prostitute to align with the state's criminal justice reform bill, Senate Bill 91.

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