Many start as foster children with histories of abuse, most have addictions, many are young parents.
A starting point to help women out of sex work, I heard often, would be for someone to notice them and ask them to tell their stories.
Her business didn't make her rich, but she was comfortable, able to pay for a car and her trailer in South Anchorage as well as the apartment where the prostitution went on. She never met a woman in the business who didn't have some kind of history of sexual trauma.
The rage that overcame her was connected to the way her past had damaged her, she said. "It's hard for me to actually have a healthy relationship with another person, because of my past, because I don't know where the care and concern and sometimes persuasiveness melds into manipulation," she said.
(Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News) The first time Amber Batts traded sex for money, she said, she was 30. (Men, though, still account for the majority of sex-trafficking offenders.) When I pulled Batts' file, I had also been following the case of Troy Williams and Heidi Ross, accused in 2015 of torturing women and forcing them to have sex.
She had two small children, her husband at the time was hurt at work, she said, and they needed money. He gave her the rundown: always get the money up front; don't do anything extra without a condom; don't do anything that doesn't feel safe; let somebody else know where you are. That's what I thought of as sex trafficking: force and a lack of consent. As I researched, though, I saw changes to the law in 2012 had struck the word "prostitution" from statutes and replaced it with "sex trafficking." Batts was charged with a crime that had formerly been called "promoting prostitution," but is now called second-degree sex trafficking.
There are "john schools," programs that educate men who buy sex about how it hurts women.
Advocates, counselors and lawyers I talked to told me that women with histories of prostitution drift unnoticed in and out of the system.
In one of her columns, she describes helping police catch a man who abused her when she was 16 and living in a Juneau group home.