Nonprofit organization Restore NYC is set to open the first safehouse in New York City dedicated to women who have escaped the global sex trade on Nov. 1 in Queens. But the opening underscores a major problem in NYC: the difficulty of successfully identifying, arresting and prosecuting sex traffickers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, "while there’s no way to quantify how many women are smuggled into the city to work as prostitutes, Restore NYC’s Faith Huckel says that her group alone has worked with some 100 victims since 2009." The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services has recorded 29 arrests for sex trafficking in the state from January 2008 through September 2010; of those, 25 of the arrests have been in NYC, and only five of those 25 were sentenced. Sex trafficking was added to NYC’s penal code in 2008—before that, suspected traffickers were often charged with promoting prostitution, forcible kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment or rape solicitation. Part of the problem now is training officers to distinguish between sex trafficking and prostitution.
This past year, there have been several high profile cases of sex trafficking: a suspected ring in Sunset Park, where the remains of the baby of one of the sex workers was encased in cement and a Rubbermaid container; an underage ring run by the Bloods; a Queens madam who forced Korean immigrants into slavery; and a Gambino sex ring, also involving underage girls.
Actresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Gabourey Sidibe have lent their voices to new public service announcements about sex trafficking, to promote the Brooklyn sex trafficking unit, BKSTU. There is also a new hot-line available for victims, or anyone with information about sex trafficking, at 718-250-2770.