Amber Batts: The State ‘created an advocate’ by charging me with sex trafficking
While she doesn’t believe the charge fit her crime, Amber Batts has served her time and is now released on parole for sex trafficking.
“It feels really good, you know? I didn't really think this day was gonna come for a long time. There was days that I was walking the yard at Highland just praying that I would be able to get out in time for to be able to see my daughter graduate from high school,” said Batts, 43, sitting down with KTVA the morning she would get her ankle monitor off.
In 2014, Batts was arrested on several felony counts of sex trafficking, accused of running one of Alaska’s largest known prostitution businesses. She pleaded guilty to one class B felony charge of sex trafficking, in 2015, and was sentenced to serve five and a half years.
Batts has been serving her sentence on electronic monitoring since March -- after spending time incarcerated and in a halfway house. Her days start early and revolve around the clock. The morning of her release onto parole, she made her coffee as usual, and a cup of hot cocoa for her teenage daughter.
“It’s a special morning, you know?” she said, adding, “We have big plans today. We’re gonna go to the movies and then we’re gonna go out to eat.”
Those privileges, which could be considered an everyday luxury for many, aren’t allowed on electronic monitoring.
Waiting until 6:50 a.m. when she’s legally allowed to leave the house, Batts made the cold dark drive to drop her daughter off at high school. She usually rushes to be home by 7:30, but not today. By 7 a.m., her time on ankle monitoring is over.
“I’m off the grid,” she joked, unplugging the State’s electronic monitoring box that’s allowed her to spend precious, even if heavily restricted, time at home.
When Batts started out as a sex worker at 30, she worked for just a short time before deciding to operate independently.
“I didn't want to give my money to some guy. I didn't want to give my money to some agency that was gonna take half of it and not do any of the work,” she explained. “When I started out on my own, I wanted to build a business model that I would want to work for, and that's what I did.”
She created a website, vetted clients, arranged appointments at an "incall location", and took online credit card payments. Appointments were billed at $300 per hour and Batts says she collected only $100 per booking -- regardless of how many hours a client paid for.
Batts says she worked with seven- to 10 women at a time -- friends, each with an independent contractor agreement.
“They called me when they wanted to work, I didn't call them. Everyone had a key to the incall location if they were here in Anchorage. I didn't keep anyone locked away. If someone didn't want to work, that was fine,” said Batts.
Her high-profile arrest earned her the title, "Alaska’s madam".
“I think it's erroneous. I never saw myself as a 'madam' or 'pimp', I saw myself as a woman who was a sex worker and also a business owner,” said Batts.
She told KTVA she got out of the business for a time, then returned when a few friends asked her to book for them, never believing she’d be charged for her illegal business.
“When I was arrested, I was actually trying to get out of the business. I was trying to go more into web design, so I had a few different businesses I was doing web design for. So, I would have been out of it anyway and I wouldn't have even looked back. When I would have read about someone getting arrested for sex trafficking, I would have thought, ‘They deserved it! Oh, they're doing something wrong’. I wouldn't have even known that there's components to the Alaska State Law that isn't force or coercion.”
Prior to a change to Alaska Law in 2012 that redefined the statutes, Batts says she would have been charged with "promoting prostitution", a charge she feels would be more appropriate.
“It's not shameful. People can do what they want with their bodies, I completely believe that. As long as I'm not hurting another person, then what is wrong with that? It turns into a moral issue,” said Batts.
When asked, “Was it worth it?” Batts answered, “In the long run, I think so. I am a stronger person. I have more compassion. I have more understanding of myself. I think I have a lot more patience.”
She says she likely wouldn’t have become an advocate for sex workers, had she not been caught.
“With the state charging me, they've created an advocate. I'm just a stronger person,” she said.
With her newfound freedom, she plans to push for a change in Alaska State Law to redefine “sex trafficking” to match the Federal definition, as well as advocate for the decriminalization of sex work and a safer business environment for sex workers.
“What's frightening right now is that, with the whole back page being closed down, the different avenues that people have to actually advertise safely and screen clients safely are closing down, and it's creating a more unsafe situation for people who are sex workers,” said Batts.
Her time as a sex worker is behind her. While Batts doesn’t plan to return, she hopes to see a social shift that would make the work safer for others.
“I didn't really think that there was that much of a moral push going on throughout the states. And it's not just in Alaska that sex work is being confused with sex trafficking it's, it's all over,” Batts said.
Looking forward, Batts happily walked out of the state’s electronic monitoring office, sans ankle monitor last week, ready to go catch a matinee showing of “Bad Moms 2”.
“I just can’t stop smiling," she said. "It’s off! I haven't had this freedom since 2014, and I don’t take it for granted.”