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

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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