Streams

Inside the New Times Square: A Look at Prostitution on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens

Monday, August 15, 2011

Roosevelt Ave. (Robyn Lee/flickr)

For decades, prostitution has plagued the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Corona in western Queens – with some authorities dubbing the area the new Times Square.

The borough ranks No. 1 in prostitution arrests in the city. Of the 3,229 prostitution-related arrests citywide last year, 1,474 were made in Queens, according to arrest statistics from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The 115th precinct — which covers Jackson Heights, Corona and East Elmhurst — accounts for the largest portion of those arrests.

The precinct made 316 prostitution-related arrests in 2010. Roughly 70 percent of those arrests were men patronizing prostitutes.

Nightlife Thrives on Roosevelt Avenue

On a recent Friday night, the bar-lined block of Roosevelt Avenue was teeming with nightlife. The main artery in Western Queens is dotted by Colombian bakeries, beauty salons, Mexican restaurants and bars like the Gentlemen’s Club advertising beautiful female dancers.

Often, people along this stretch of road hand out business cards emblazoned with half-naked women that advertise “Free Delivery” and typically list the hours of operation as between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m., according to State Senator Jose Peralta.

Peralta said he believes the cards are marketing tools of brothels that have set up shop inside private homes and apartments. In February, he introduced the so-called “chica card” legislation, making it illegal to hand out such cards.

Soon after the legislation came out, the cards stopped littering the streets -- but it was only a partial victory, he said.

“I mean they’re still advertising prostitution, but now what you see is more of these pictures of flowers and fruits,” Peralto said, sitting in the passenger seat of a Toyota Camry along Roosevelt Avenue. “But at one point  what we saw was graphic nude pictures of women … and that’s what was littering the streets of Roosevelt Avenue where the kids were picking this up.”

The law banning the cards goes into effect in November.

A Profile of Life on the Streets

On 104th Street in Corona, $2 dance bars dot the side streets. Each time doors open, Latin music flows out while bouncers guard the doors. The bars are throwbacks to the dance halls of decades ago where lonely servicemen would go to find companionship.

"We’ve heard from women there is sex going on in some of the bars,” said Nathaly Rubio-Torio of Voces Latinas. “And if you walk along Roosevelt Avenue, you’ll see that at night you can’t see inside the bars.”

Rubio-Torio said her group – which runs an HIV prevention program -- had been visiting the bars along Roosevelt Avenue handing out safe sex packets when a bar owner complained that customers weren’t happy with the female condoms being used and asked her not to come back.

“So if this is a bar what does it matter? But he asked us not to come in because they were losing customers,” she said.

Alejandra Trevino, who attends a support group run by Voces Latinas, sought help because of domestic violence but eventually revealed her history as a prostitute.

At her request, Trevino’s name has been changed to protect her privacy. Although she’s been out of the business for four years, she fears that if she’s recognized, her family in Colombia will be harmed. 

Trevino, 48, said within a week of arriving in New York, a woman who allegedly lured her to the city told her she’d be cleaning offices along with three others. But once she arrived, she said she was driven to a secluded area that she believes was Long Island.

“I asked, ‘Where are the offices?’ because all I see are trees,” Trevino said.

She said the woman gestured to the van they had been following and said that was the office.

“In the van was a mattress thrown on the floor and I said, ‘This is the office? And I’m going to clean here?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘What am I going to clean?” Trevino said.

That night, she said she was with 52 men.

At first, Trevino said she cried and protested, but the woman threatened to leave her there. Feeling that she had no choice, she gave in.

She said the money she made went to the woman for rent, food and for paying off debts in Colombia. Trevino said most of the men paying for sex were Latino immigrants from places like Guatemala and Mexico.

In the city, the going rate was $50 for 15 minutes. In the suburbs, the price dropped by $20.

The former prostitute said she went on to work in squalid brothels all over the city -- including in Jackson Heights where up to 25 women would work in houses with five rooms.

“Sometimes there weren’t even beds,” she said. “It was a mattress thrown on the floor or a board with something thrown over it and that’s where you’d have to work.”

Trevino says said she finally left the brothel but married a man who would beat her and forced her back into sex work.

A tearful Trevino said she saw girls as young as 12 working at brothels across the city.

"Chica cards" collected near Roosevelt Ave. in Queens (Cindy Rodriguez/WNYC)

 Another Bill to Help Curb Prostitution

Rubio-Torio said young immigrant women who are undocumented often see cleaning houses and bar work as their only job options, especially in a down economy. Not speaking the language and not knowing anyone leaves many women vulnerable to being victims of sex trafficking.

Peralta recently introduced a bill that would require livery drivers – some of whom allegedly ferry prostitutes to customers and vice versa -- to take a course on sex trafficking before receiving or renewing a livery license.

“Because I know that if the drivers are aware of what signs to look for to see if these women are potential victims of human trafficking that they are more likely not to take them to the next destination, more likely not to deal with this underworld,” the state lawmaker said.

Peralta believes some livery drivers are shuttling men from Manhattan looking for prostitutes to Roosevelt Avenue. Others, he said, may be transporting prostitutes to customers unwittingly.

A Taxi and Limousine Commission official said singling out drivers is not the way to go and a campaign that educates the broader public would be more effective. Under the bill, the commission would be responsible for administering the course.

Rubio-Torio, who runs Voce Latinas, said a change is needed on Roosevelt Avenue because right now, only the bars thrive there. Just recently, she said, a restaurant closed its doors.

“It was a nice Indonesian restaurant, very good, couldn’t make it not even a year,” Rubio-Torio said, “Now what’s coming up? A sports bar.”

Tags:

More in:

Comments [26]

Maria from Queens

This story really stretches belief : "In the van was a mattress thrown on the floor and I said, ‘This is the office? To Quote from this story : The 48 year old victim said:
“In the van was a mattress thrown on the floor and I said, ‘This is the office? And I’m going to clean here?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘What am I going to clean?” Trevino said. "And I’m going to clean here?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘What am I going to clean?” Trevino said.

That night, she said she was with 52 men." FIFTY TWO MEN in one NIGHT

REALLY? Let's calculate : Over a 10 HOUR PERIOD CONTINUOUSLY... 10 hours = 600 min divided by 52 = 11.53 min per "man" without pause, or any break whatsoever. So you would have to have 52 men lined up in a que on the street... with the last man waiting on line for 10 hours in order to pull this off. Of course 52 men lined up in the street to enter into a van to have sex for 11 min each ( not counting time to partially disrobe and "button up" would not attract attention, the reporter of this story would have us believe this is a common sight on the streets in Queens ... or is it that the most outrageous story is supposed to be believed because it is outrageous? DO you think we are STUPID as consumers of "news"? This NEVER HAPPENED ...as it is physically, societally, and logistically impossible ! This obvious lie is an outrage and insult to our intelligence. This could NEVER happen in NYC .. there is NO PROOF and I think to print and air this is disgusting in terms of journalistic integrity and makes REAL stories less believable if there are any ..

May. 07 2014 02:18 PM
Sandy from Queens

Some of the parts of this story are not believable having investigated these areas for an undercover news story . I think the victim in this case needed to exaggerate to apply for a U Visa and get a quick green card

Mattress in the back of a Van? How primitive do you think Corona Queens is ?

May. 07 2014 01:59 PM
John from Manhattan

pity Nicole's fiancee... the jealousy is seething

May. 07 2014 01:44 PM
Nichole from corona

I just found one of those cards outside my apartments. If i ever catch them trying to give one to my fiancee again i will light their asses on fire!

Oct. 12 2013 05:22 PM
Nichole Rotchy from Corona New York

Those idiots men AND women are constantly handing cards to my fiancee and even tried getting MY attention. The police need to step their game up!!!!

Oct. 05 2013 02:17 AM
Somiya from 67st

It was around 11pm and I saw lot of prostitute walking. My fience was waiting for me And they asked him "do you wanna have fun tonight." Near 64-68st Roosevelt.

Jul. 19 2013 10:42 AM
tanya from Pennsylvania

hey I had sex with 62 woman on Roosevelt ave. they all charged me $1.00. call me for more info 570-856-3467

Jul. 07 2013 06:58 PM
John from Jackson Heights

Just for the record.... I have some friends who work at bars near 82nd, and I really doubt much prostitution is going on here. I've been in some of the places, against my better judgement. The girls use high pressure tactics to get you to invite them for a drink which is usually a cocktail with no alcohol for twice the normal price. $6 drink for you is a $12 drink for them, plus tip, and they keep the difference. These girls cheer you on while you do shots and the more you drink, the more they make.

After a couple rounds and a lot poorer, I never once was propositioned for anything more than more drinks. The guys who go to these places, mostly lonely illegal laborers, are the fools. Getting any kind of action at one of these places is probably more difficult and much more expensive than any bar in Manhattan.

Jun. 30 2013 11:11 AM
Newyorker from new york

There is all levels of prostitution from models , executive escorts, college students, workers to poor illegal immigrants. Prostitution must be legalized there is no point allowing it to go illegally. Lot of these women are infact exploit men to very bad levels and big time gold diggers. Most of them make over $ 1000 to $ 2000 per day and do not pay any tax. It all depends on how good looking they are and also how good they are at the sex act. Most of them are very lazy to work hard and earn legitimately . This is the most easy way of making money. Men are exploited because of there hormonal drive. Even your girlfriend expects some kind of benefit to give you sex. So women are exploiting. The percentage of women exploited by pimps is very small. Legalize and tax them

Jun. 17 2013 09:59 PM
yoni from queens

Estoy muy dwe acuerdo con el comentario de Monica esa es la pura realidad

Feb. 15 2013 04:10 PM
Sahiris Cabrera from Passaic

So sad :(

Aug. 20 2012 04:52 PM
monica

SOLO NOS VIVEN PONIENDO EN MAL A NOSOTROS LOS HISPANOS TRABAJADORES Q AUNQUESEA DE PROSTITUTAS TRABAJAMOS MI CASA NO LO ES PERO SI DEFIENDO A TODAS ESAS MUJERER Q PARA LLEVARLES ALGO DE COMER A SUS FAMILIAS SE PROSTITUYEN COMO SEA MIS RESPETOS PARA ESAS MADRES DE FAMILIA. Y COMO DIJO UNA CHABA Q SOLO NOS MIRAN A NOSOTROS LOS CENTROAMIRICANOS, YO QUISIERA UN DIA Q TODOS NOSOTROS LA GENTE HISPANA TRABAJADORA NOS FUERAS DE ESTADOS UNIDOS PARA Q VIERAN TODOS ESOS AMERICANOS,ESOS NEGROS,BORICUAS Y DOMINICANOS CUANDO VALOR TENEMOS Q SIN NOSOTROS NO SON NI MIERDA PORQ POR NNUESTRO RABAJO ES Q SOLO VIVEN DE MANTENIDOS GUEVONES CULERON. LE CUENTO UN POCO DE MMIE EXPERIENCIA SOY MADRE SOLTERA TENGO 2 HIJOS Y TRABAJO 10 HORAS DIARIOS PARA PPODER PAGAR 1240 DE RENTA Y UNA VES Q ESTUBE ATRASADA ME MANDARON A CORTE Y LES PEDI DE PORFAVOR NO ME VOTARAN POR MIS HIJOS Y APLIQUE PARA AYUDA (ASISTENCIA PUBLICA) LA NEGRA TRABAJADORA SOCIAL ME DIJO Q YO NO CALIFICABA Y Q SI NO ME ALCANSABA EL DINERO Q BUSCARA UNA PERSONA Q ME ALQUILARA UN CUARTO, PERO SI VIERA SIDO UN PRIETO UN BORICUA O UN DOMINICANO CON LOS OJOS CERRADOS SE LA DAN CULEROS TODOS

Jun. 12 2012 11:12 PM
JOSE FOLLON from QUEENS

DEJEN A LAS PUTAS FOLLAR EN PAZ LO MAS RICO ES METERLES LA VERGA POR EL CULO HAY UNAS QUE DICEN HAY ME DUELE PAPI ESO ME EXITA HASTA M ESTOY HACIENDO UNA PAJA AHORITA

Apr. 12 2012 02:56 PM
Paul

The article does not contain any new analytical tools for examining the prostitution problem. The suggested actions that should be taken to reduce the problem are and would be ineffective at best. There are a lot of people making a great deal of money off of prostitution. Unless this economic incentive is eliminate Prostitution will continue to be a problem. Furthermore, the residents of Jackson Height-Corona do not seem bothered by the high levels of prostitution. Can we count on their support in the battle to eliminate the centuries old practice?

The idea of banning “chica cards” is more show than substance. You can still walk along Roosevelt Avenue and its adjacent side streets and be handed business cards that leave nothing to the imagination.

For years we have supported a policy that prevented cab drivers of all types from meddling in the affairs of the passengers. Senator Jose Peralta’s initiative to make livery cab drivers “deputies of state” was rightly rejected by TLC.

This article discusses the Roosevelt prostitution as does previous articles of the same genre. The women are victims of human tracking rings and are prostitutes against their wills. This article follows the usual script of arguing that the lack of employment opportunities leads these women to work as prostitutes. Next it is argued that the explosion in the number of bars corresponds to the growth of the prostitution problem. I do not believe that any of these standard assumptions are true.

Sep. 25 2011 03:53 PM
Jacqueline Sung

Look in the back of local free newspapers. They advertise massage services and escort services door to door, clearly prostitution services. The news part of these same papers may carry stories about stopping prostitution. As Spark would say in Star Trek, "It does not compute." In the "Yellow Pages of Queens, it is replete with advertisments for escort services. They are so much easier to find than the phone numbers for museums and hospitals.

Sep. 19 2011 11:48 PM
josh from Brooklyn

What about the modeling agencies in Manhattan selling their women? It seems like the cops only prey on poor immigrants, like in queens, and recently in Sheepshead Bay. When the immigrants start contributing to the politicans, perhaps theyll find something else to get busy with.

Aug. 18 2011 01:26 AM
yomama

What a joke.

Most of the chicas at those $2 dollar a dance bar are making tons of money. It is the lonely, sorry day laborers that are getting ripped off.

The real crime is that half of them are Dominicans, legal residents, and working at these places off the books so that they can keep the SECTION 8 + Food stamp money flowing. That is the real crime. There isn't any sex going on inside those clubs.
And the Mexicans that dance there that are undocumented end up falling in love with a customer and dating them outside of the bar half of the time.

Aug. 17 2011 09:29 PM
Legalize from NYC

The only way to curb this is to make prostitution legal. Here is what I think happens when it is made legal.
1. everyone involved needs to be documented
2. all prostitute should be required to take hiv & std tests
3. all businesses would need tax id #'s
4. all prostitutes need to pay taxes

This doesn't mean that the problem of abuse will disappear, but the amount of illegal brothels should go down. This also provides a way for the Gov't to make money, monitor, and address some major problems in our society.

Aug. 17 2011 03:43 PM
RXN from Queens

Until we can, as a culture, understand and appreciate what monogamy and sexuality is, and what and whom it is intended for, we will always have this scourge where despicable, sleazy men prey upon desperate women who are willing to sacrifice their dignity and behave immorally to make money.

Aug. 17 2011 02:24 PM
Aaisha from Astoria

Outside of just fixing the problems that already exist, we need to create alternatives for these women. Ok fine, the bars are shut down, and the cabs are alerted, but then what? What happens to these women after that? This needs to be a three step solution (if not more) - stop prostitution, provide facilities and train women, then assist the women in finding alternative work opportunities. I know it's not as simple as it sounds, but I also feel that until alternatives are provided, things aren't going to change.

Aug. 17 2011 11:55 AM
Peg from Southern Tier NY

This story makes it seem like hispanic immigrants are the major sex trade participants. Surely there must be other cultural 'players.'

Aug. 17 2011 11:28 AM
Oh the morality! from NYC

So, getting rid of these cards is going to do what exactly?

Probably push this further behind closed doors, but at least we're protecting the children!

How many of these instances are women being forced into prostitution and how many are choosing? Why is it always assumed that they're being abused and forced?

Pretty sure cleaning jobs are just as demeaning and pay less too.

Aug. 17 2011 11:27 AM
SWS from NYC

As stated above, look at Europe.
What percent of little girls sit around dreaming about becoming a prostitute? Why are we arresting people who clearly feel they have no other way to make a means to live? Writing bills and legislation to make the public responsible for doing the "right" thing is absurd. I think we are well past the point of moral obligation in this country, and asking a livery driver to care you're asking them to take money out of their own pockets. Um, pretty sure that's not happening.
My personal opinion...legalize it. It's not going to stop a pimp from victimizing woman or stop John's from seeking sex but perhaps it can implement a safer working environment and maybe even give these women a sense of security, safety, and hopefully a chance of getting out. Cue Europe.

Aug. 17 2011 09:42 AM
Frank from Newark

The whole hypocrisy of this issue is really appalling. Without "customers" there is no business, so there obviously is a demand for these services, and usually nobody gets hurt in the process. Slave-labor and child abuse is illegal, but driving a whole "industry" underground only makes that easier.

Back home in decadent Europe prostitution is more or less legalized - including health insurance for the sex workers.
That's the only reasonable way to go, but in this country - with all the bigotry going on in politics - is never going to happen.
So go on locking up the women and Johns - it won't solve the problem, but surely keeps the police busy.

Aug. 17 2011 08:37 AM
Danielle from Oakland, CA

Quote #1: "Rubio-Torio said young immigrant women who are undocumented often see cleaning houses and bar work as their only job options, especially in a down economy. Not speaking the language and not knowing anyone leaves many women vulnerable to being victims of sex trafficking"
+
Quote #2: "In February he introduced the so-called “chica card” legislation, making it illegal to hand out cards [with color photos advertising half-naked women]. Soon after the legislation came out, the cards stopped littering the streets -- but it was only a partial victory. “I mean they’re still advertising prostitution, but now what you see is more of these pictures of flowers and fruits,” Peralto said."
=
Long-past time for comprehensive immigration reform

Correct?

Aug. 17 2011 02:43 AM
Alex Hernandez from Long Island,NY

Too many of our fellow humans are being exploited as part of the trafficking trade, a cruel form of modern-day slavery. Some are men, but most are women and children being abused and robbed of their dignity.I wonder how many of those women are being trafficked.

Aug. 16 2011 06:57 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Sponsored

Latest Newscast

 

 

Support

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public

Feeds

Supported by