Tag Archives: Restore NYC

Op Ed: Human trafficking is not victimless

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


I introduced a bill last year, which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law, prohibiting the distribution of obscene, business-card-sized ads for prostitutes.  These so-called “chica” cards, which have been handed out along Roosevelt Avenue and adjacent streets for many years, feature promises of “free delivery.”

After a press conference at which I unveiled my chica cards bill, the problem drew attention.  The cards were the subject of some jokes.

And it turned out that one of the cards we enlarged and displayed at the press conference pictured an international supermodel.

The harsh reality, however, is that there is absolutely nothing funny, or glamorous, about prostitution.

The fact is, many women from around the world and across the country are brought here — to New York, to Roosevelt Avenue — and are enslaved, forced to have sex with strangers for the profit of human traffickers and pimps.

We have to dispel the dangerous notion that prostitution is a victimless crime.

And we do that with information and by raising awareness.  Someone aware of the brutal truth is less likely to participate in the continued exploitation of these women.

And that’s the point of the public awareness campaign I am launching.  I put it together in conjunction with the mayor’s office and Restore NYC, a non-profit that provides aftercare services to sex-trafficking victims and operates a safe house in Queens.  The campaign consists of getting posters into storefront windows and informational, palm-sized pamphlets into people’s hands along Roosevelt Avenue and neighboring streets, areas where many of the women trafficked into New York are prostituted.

Again, someone who understands what these women are really going through is less likely to participate in their brutal exploitation.

As Faith Huckel, co-founder of Restore NYC observes, “sex trafficking is one of the most violent humanitarian issues of our day.  To call it anything less is to disregard the trauma, rape and abuse experienced on the part of the victim.”

Traffickers prey on the poor and vulnerable.  They use promises of a good job or a false marriage proposal to lure victims.  Other victims are kidnapped or sold into the sex trade by parents, husbands or boyfriends.  Many of these women are being abused and exploited in public and private locations in our very own communities, including Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing.

We must seek justice for trafficked women.  To that end I have also I introduced a bill in the New York State Senate to reclassify sex trafficking as a violent felony and increase the minimum jail sentence to five years.  The minimum sentence currently is one to three years.

Classifying sex trafficking as a violent felony not only raises the minimum sentence for a first offense, it can put someone that commits multiple violent offenses away for life under the persistent violent offender law.

By raising awareness and imposing penalties commensurate with the brutality inherent in sex trafficking, I hope that we can put at least some traffickers and pimps out of business and keep them from destroying more lives.

Senator Peralta is the Ranking Democrat on the Labor Committee and also serves as a member of the Finance, Investigations and Insurance Committees.

New campaign to fight sex trafficking in Queens

| aaltman@queenscourier.com


When Angelina (not her real name) was 17, a man referred to as her “boyfriend” brought her from Honduras to the United States and forced her to work as a prostitute. The teenager endured beatings and abuse for nearly a year before she called the police. Through investigation, authorities discovered Angelina was a victim of sex trafficking.

Senator Jose Peralta, along with civil rights group Restore NYC, assembled a flyer-based campaign to increase awareness about human trafficking and attack the persistent problem in Queens’ immigrant neighborhoods.

Posters in the windows of hundreds of businesses throughout Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona depict a woman’s shadowed profile and harrowing lament in English and Spanish. “He promised me a place to stay. Then he forced me to work as a prostitute,” they read.

Roosevelt Avenue is a center of activity, said Peralta. The cleansing of Times Square at the end of the 20th century sent pimps and pushers to new quarters, setting up camp in hidden corners of the outer boroughs. According to Peralta, the dimly-lit stretch under the No. 7 train bred lowlifes who reveled in the area’s veiled corridors and easy access to Manhattan. The neighborhood echoed Las Vegas as men, stationed every four blocks, distributed business cards, emblazoned with images of nude women.

“Chica, chica,” they would say, advertising the young girls, as they slipped the cards into the palms of passers-by.

Adolescent boys scooped up the sinful swatches, trading them like baseball cards. Enraged parents, discovering piles of porn in their children’s bedrooms, informed Peralta of the card-dispensing creeps. Peralta informed the governor, who signed a law banning the cards in November 2011.

Now, instead of naked women, men give out cards with pictures of fruit on them, indicating they deliver between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. and provide the best “fruit.”

Jimmy Lee, executive director of Restore NYC, estimated 15,000 people are trafficked in the United States every year, several thousand of whom end up in the New York City area. While individuals are smuggled into the country for forced prostitution and labor, Restore NYC focuses on assisting victims of sex trafficking. According to Lee, the average age of a woman his organization assists is 23.

Most victims of sex trafficking in western Queens come from Mexico, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. Some are from just a few states away, coming to New York with aspirations for life in the big city.

“The American Dream, the good life, the fast buck, the short cut — that’s the hook,” said Peralta.

Predators target women from their home countries, exploiting their shared cultural mindset and familiar background. If a woman expresses interest in fleeing, their captors threaten to kill them or their families.

Peralta hopes the posters spread a message of hope, letting victims know help is available and informing those who previously turned a blind eye to the plight of thousands.