In response to a concerning rise in prostitution activities concentrated in specific areas of New York City, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has initiated a comprehensive effort to address this issue.
A noteworthy instance is the neighborhood of East New York in Brooklyn, where a significant number of women have been observed openly engaging in the sale of sexual services.
Law enforcement officers, however, emphasize that these women are not the perpetrators but are, in fact, victims of a larger problem.
Eyewitness News correspondent Josh Einiger recently obtained an exclusive insight into the NYPD’s fresh approach to combat the illicit sex trade.
The scene he observed, on a Thursday night close to midnight, revealed a bleak stretch of industrial structures and parking lots for garbage trucks. Although this area should have been deserted at that hour, it was teeming with activity.
Women, some appearing to be scarcely in their teenage years and scantily clad, walked the streets, while numerous vehicles circled the vicinity. These vehicles carried men seeking to engage in commercial sexual activities.
The specific location in question, known as the “Penn Track,” spans a few square blocks near Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York.
NYPD officers estimate that around 350 pimps vie for dominance in this area, controlling a multitude of young women, many of whom are coerced into participating against their will.
A misconception surrounding the concept of choice in these circumstances has been highlighted by survivors of sex trafficking, including Melanie Thompson, who assert that these women often lack authentic agency in their involvement.
Thompson elucidated, “There’s a huge misconception around choice, around the idea that these women are choosing to do this because they woke up one day and decided they wanted to.”
In a marked shift in approach, law enforcement now views these women as victims ensnared by sex traffickers, caught in a tumultuous cycle between oppressive pimps and the necessity to meet exploitative quotas.
The focus has extended to include the individuals who patronize these activities, commonly referred to as “sex buyers.”
NYPD Assistant Commissioner Kaz Daughtry commented on this shift, asserting, “These pimps are abusing these women. They’re assaulting them, you know? They’re afraid to get help.” The initial step taken involved a targeted sweep to eliminate the presence of pimps who typically remain in their vehicles, observing the activities of the women.
By removing this menacing presence, outreach advocates collaborating with law enforcement could approach these women with offers of assistance to extricate them from this perilous lifestyle.
During one operation, law enforcement officers encountered a pimp with a woman believed to be under his control, along with apparent crack cocaine.
The pimp was apprehended, and his vehicle was seized. Daughtry explained, “We’re driving his car away, we’re going to take his vehicle away, he’ll go back to the precinct, we’ll determine the appropriate charges in a little while. Now we’re going to have our advocates come over to go talk to who we believe is a sexually exploited person.”
This approach allows advocates to engage these women without the intimidating presence of their exploiters, offering crucial information on accessing assistance.
Ane Mathieson, representing Sanctuary for Families, expressed appreciation for the collaboration between law enforcement and advocacy groups, highlighting the joint recognition of the need to address the root cause by targeting the demand side of the equation – the men perpetuating the sex trade.
She remarked, “For law enforcement to partner with us and say we agree, we’re standing in solidarity, we want to convey this message that we recognize that the primary prevention here is to go after the demand, the men who are fueling the sex trade, is so inspiring.”
This shift in approach is driven by the acknowledgment that prostitution activities in this area contribute to a supply and demand cycle that exacerbates violent crime. Inspector Rohan Griffith, in charge of the local 75th Precinct, underlined this connection: “The perception when you look at this particular activity is that there’s no violence attributed with it, and unfortunately, that’s just not the case.”
The operation yielded unforeseen outcomes, including the arrest of 10 individuals attempting to solicit an undercover officer for sex, as well as the confiscation of illegal firearms. This includes an instance where a vehicle was stopped, leading to the discovery of not a pimp but four men in possession of an illegal gun. The sweep also uncovered a “ghost gun” concealed on a 13-year-old boy. This is of significance, given that almost half of the shootings in the “Penn Track” area have been linked to the sex trade.
Inspector Griffith empathized with the community’s concerns, acknowledging both the quality-of-life and violence-related challenges faced in the area. He expressed gratitude for the collaborative efforts of various partners in addressing this multifaceted issue.