Friday, December 14, 2012
Roosevelt Avenue underworld
From the Times Ledger:
Trafficking happens all around the city and the country, but the Queens neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing have been identified as key centers for the crime. City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) said with the cleanup of Times Square in the 1980s and 1990s, the criminal element moved down the No. 7 line into Queens. In these neighborhoods, johns have access to prostituted women not only from houses set up for the purpose, but from the back of vans and at bars that advertise $2 dances.
In recent years, Queens lawmakers have pushed legislation and conducted campaigns to combat sex trafficking. When asked, advocates do not have numbers for how prevalent it is in the borough, but Ferreras said she has heard often from constituents at Council hearings, at community meetings and in her daily life of sex trafficking going on in her district, especially around Roosevelt Avenue.
She said girls can be trafficked from as young as 12 and boys from as young as 10.
“It’s here. It’s a problem,” she said in an interview. “I think it happens behind closed doors. It happens in small areas of the community.”
Leticia Brown, of Girls Education and Mentoring Services, an organization aimed at helping victims, said during a panel at the Long Island University-C.W. Post in Brookville, L.I., earlier this year that the girls who are trafficked are often minorities and low-income, if not homeless or runaways.
“The girls, women I work with are deemed ‘less than’ in our society,” Brown said.
People are trafficked into the city both domestically and internationally, with victims coming into Queens from as close by as Brooklyn to as far away as Latin America and Asia via John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. Advocates say the pimps offer their victims the promise of a better life: an opportunity for work, a green card, a boyfriend.
Nassau County Police Detective John Birbiglia said pimps often set themselves up as a girl’s father, giving them gifts of clothes and jewelry or dinner before demanding they earn these gifts by sleeping with men for money of which they never see a dime. Once the pimps have the girls, they can keep them intimidated either through rape, physical abuse or threats to themselves or their families.
Some women who have been trapped in the lifestyle for years also grow up to become “top girls” who run prostitution rings, Ferreras said.
“You think this must be the movies,” Ferreras said. “This is someone’s reality.”