BY SENATOR JOSE PERALTA
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.