JUNEAU — Human trafficking most likely occurs in Alaska, but it is unclear how prevalent the crime is in the state, according to a new study.
The State of Alaska Task Force on the Crimes of Human Trafficking, Promoting Prostitution and Sex Trafficking presented its findings to a joint session of the House and Senate judiciary committees Wednesday. Legislation passed last year called for the creation of a task force that would look at the prevalence of trafficking and prostitution, as well as the services available to help victims of those crimes.
“Due to the lack of training and the general unwillingness of the victims to disclose their background, there is a lack of information on how prevalent trafficking is in Alaska and what is most needed to address the problem,” the report states. While it is hard to discern the extent of the problem, “it is apparent that survival sex and sex trafficking occur within Alaska, and that these victims present some of the most complex cases in terms of security, emotional and physical well-being,” the report states.
Joe Masters, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, told the committees the crimes of human sex trafficking “have largely been misunderstood due to the underground and hidden nature of these crimes.”
Additionally, victims of trafficking and sex slavery are often viewed as criminals — a cultural attitude which makes self-reporting even more daunting — despite the fact that many of them were made more susceptible to trafficking due to previous traumatic incidents in their lives, according to the report.
“Prostitutes are really not criminals. They’re really victims,” Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty said. “We as a society and a government have to change the way we think about that.”
The five-month study yielded 13 recommendations on how to create better services for victims, raise public awareness of the issue and train law enforcement, prosecutors and other public safety officials to recognize traffickers and their victims.
The task force also recommended establishing a permanent working group on the subject that could continue researching the subject.