Voices of NOW NYC: Aiming for a “Trafficking Free NYC�

sonia.jpg
Sonia Ossorio is the president of NOW-NYC, a position she has held since elected in 2004.
I know a woman from South America who spent her first night in the Big Apple in a brothel overlooking Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. With a timer at her side she “serviced� 19 men – a veritable United Nations parade of taxi drivers to restaurant workers who literally queued up for a turn to have 15 minute sex sessions with the women at this brothel.
If you never had a picture of what the low-budget, factory-style prostitution that makes up much of the local NYC sex industry, this is it – up close, uncomfortable and a mockery of sex and all it stands for – pleasure, sharing, sexual empowerment and women’s liberation.
At the beginning of each shift, the women are given a produce box top with two rolls of paper towels, a bottle of lube, alcohol and a baggie filled with unwrapped condoms. The condoms are prepped much like vegetables at restaurants before the rush hits. There are tips that go to the men who stand on the corners as dusk sets in and pass out business cards for the brothels and give directions to the houses where sex can be bought $30 for 15 minutes. The price went up this year from $25.


It would be a year before “Carmen� could get out from the grasp of the trafficker who she “worked� for. She endured long nights of anonymous men in the beginning, a method that is used the world over by pimps and traffickers (one and the same) to break down a woman’s spirit, resolve and fight. Serial rape will do that to you.
After that, the threat of violence kept her in place coupled with a threatened smear campaign of her reputation back home. Her traffickers told her if she didn’t stick it out, they’d drop the news in her town that she’d become a whore in the US. She should just suck it up, make some cash and get home soon. For a Latin woman from a small town in South America womanhood is defined largely by being in the respectable camp or the whore house.
This year, NOW-NYC and the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition had a big role in shaping and getting an anti-trafficking law passed. It was way overdue. The DAs spend loads of money investigating scams and shakedown operations but not human trafficking. The cops hardly know what trafficking is. We have a campaign called “Ask A Cop� in which people ask cops on the street about the new law so that we can make a report and convince the NYPD that training is seriously needed. I asked two cops on the subway platform recently and they told me trafficking is only a problem in New Jersey, it was happening in NYC?!
Cops with trained eyes may have made a difference for the many women who were part of a Mexican trafficking crime ring that operated for 13 long years between Tenancingo, Mexico and Queens. Young, poor, uneducated Mexican women brought to New York were systematically raped, imprisoned and forced to work in brothels throughout the region seven days a week, servicing 25 men a day. Pregnancy ended in forced abortions. Lives, hearts and minds destroyed for profit. In 2006, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York secured 50-year prison sentences for two traffickers in this case.
You don’t have to be a federal prosecutor to realize trafficking is happening throughout NYC and other cities across the country. A stroll through the yellow pages will find you knee-deep in prostitution ads, some showing children. There’s one ad in the Manhattan book with the picture of a girl that can’t be more than 10 years old. Guess what the “escort service� is called—Asian Flowers. At NOW-NYC we started a campaign called “Trafficking Free NYC!� asking publishers to use common sense, do some basic due diligence and stop taking ads that exploit women through commercial sex work.
NOW-NYC will continue working on this issue. If you’d like to get involved or learn more, check out our website www.nownyc.org and join our Trafficking Action Network.

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11 Comments

  1. EyeHeartNY
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad NOW NYC is taking this on. And kudos for targeting law enforcement AND publishers.
    Whenever I pick up the Village Voice I’m disturbed by the pages upon pages of “escort” ads, most of which feature the women almost completely naked with their faces blurred out. I’ve always wondered how/if the Voice verifies that it’s not giving ad space to human traffickers. I’d hate to be a regular reader of a publication partially funded by that kind of activity.

  2. Posted December 12, 2007 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    This could be a problem with my computer but whenever I click on the nownyc.org link in the post it says page cannot be found. It works if I just manually enter it into the browser though.
    Either way this is great. I made my women’s studies students do a project on human trafficking last year, which of course entailed me having to make sure I knew my stuff and I couldn’t believe how bad the problem really was.

  3. ponies and rainbows
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    WTF? How the hell can NYC cops not think there’s any trafficking going on there?!? I live in Minneapolis, and WE have tons of trafficking, for fuck’s sake.
    And EyeHeartNY, sadly, supposedly liberal publications like the Village Voice are often some of the biggest supporters of trafficking. My workplace once had a human trafficking expert come in and do a presentation for us, and she said that our liberal rag, the City Pages, knowingly publishes tons of ads for escort services that use trafficked women. It’s really, really sad, and should make those types of publications lose all credibility.

  4. Mina
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    First, has anyone else noticed how the UK press calls this slavery but the US press calls it trafficking even when long distances aren’t involved?
    “And EyeHeartNY, sadly, supposedly liberal publications like the Village Voice are often some of the biggest supporters of trafficking.”
    I’m reminded of a supposedly sex-positive blog I saw a few years ago:
    http://www.erosblog.com/2004/06/23/markets-in-sex-redux/
    Summary: a 15-year-old ended up owned by a brothel after escaping the rat-infested basement her parents locked her in. The blogger thinks this proves it’s “politically correct bullshit” to dislike brothels owning children.
    The idea seems to be that if sex can be good then absolutely everything sexual must be good…

  5. EyeHeartNY
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Ponies and Rainbows, as City Pages and the Voice both have the same parent company (for that matter so do The Stranger, OC Weekly and a whole crap-ton of other major alternative weeklies), I wouldn’t imagine the Voice is any better. That makes me sad. I’d be plenty willing to pay for a paper that took some social responsibility than read it for free knowing that it’s helping bankroll human trafficking.
    (As for the *credibility* of said papers’ editorial content that’s a different question, as in any legitimate news source the wall between ads and editorial content is pretty impenetrable, but that’s another thread).

  6. Farhat
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Cops always know where such things are going on. Major reason being payments in kind and cash to keep the cops happy. I won’t give details but in a major midwestern city there was a huge effort to stamp out streetwalking by the cops. Of course, more than stamping it out all it resulted was in cops getting free blowjobs and the prostitutes back on the street. Somebody then pointed out that there is a section where male prostitutes troll the streets, why don’t the cops show as much interest over there. There was a quick reply of deafening silence. I believe a couple of cops ended up getting caught red-handed with pros and the program died a quiet death.

  7. Gretchen
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I want to know where else this is a problem. What can I do in my hometown? Do I contact my local NOW? How do I help out here in Kansas?

  8. thegoddessmelissa
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    this is happening everywhere, in every corner of this country. a ring was busted up in my town of Indianapolis a couple of years ago. women and girls being held illegally in houses in old, decrepit neighborhoods now populated with an influx of immigrants, in the exact conditions as described in NYC. the media has never followed up, though, and i’ve often wondered what happens to the women afterward.

  9. Posted December 13, 2007 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Breaks my heart. No, it isn’t politically correct bullshit to have a problem with a lot of aspects of the sex industry. It is offensive and dangerous, to me, to glorify it an ignore how many people are not in it willingly.

  10. Posted December 14, 2007 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    rachelgbd, it’s not a problem with your computer – the link in the post is malformed (it’s pointing at just “www.nownyc.org” when it should be pointing at “http://www.nownyc.org”)
    As for traffickers’ ads in liberal publications – is this just a matter of economics, or is there some correlation between liberal editorial sections and a greater willingness to accept these ads? That is, is it just that liberal publications tend to be more desperate for cash than more mainstream ones, or is it some sort of misguided commitment to free speech and sex positiveness that results in more ads like this?
    Or is it something else entirely? (e.g., the advertisers targeting their audience, and hence targeting free or lower cost papers, which happen to also be generally left-wing in their editorials and news coverage) Has anyone ever had success in getting a publication to actively reject these ads?

  11. Mina
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    “As for traffickers’ ads in liberal publications – is this just a matter of economics, or is there some correlation between liberal editorial sections and a greater willingness to accept these ads? That is, is it just that liberal publications tend to be more desperate for cash than more mainstream ones, or is it some sort of misguided commitment to free speech and sex positiveness that results in more ads like this?”
    Meanwhile, what about right-wing counterparts of these publications?

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