Tensions Rise Over Growing Problem of Prostitution in Sunset Park
The Sunset Park neighborhood seems to be becoming , dare we say it, a hot bed of activity. Recently, we posted news about rent strikes and activists in Sunset Park. Today’s report focuses on the growing prevalence of prostitution near Sunset Park bars and brothels, which was the subject of an El Diario La Prensa story. A translation of the article is below.
Take a midnight stroll through the desolate streets of Second Avenue in Sunset Park, an immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Although the atmosphere feels tense and somewhat dangerous, prostitutes dare to walk around the area, parading from Second to Third Avenue in search of a client willing to pay $15-$20 for a good time.
Along Third Avenue between 39th and 60th Streets, various women walk alone or in pairs, seeking the attention of motorists and residents.
According to activists, sex workers have been flocking to this neighborhood since the 1950s, but new problems have arisen in the area due to the proliferation of bars and dance halls, immigrants’ unwillingness to use condoms, and law enforcement frequently confusing residents for sex workers.
“Innocents pay the price”
Ana Navarrete, a member of the organization Adelante Alliance, said that motorists and pedestrians harass some of her neighbors on 53rd Street and Third Avenue.
“Many women can’t leave the house to go to the store without a man approaching them to solicit sex,” she said.
Not only clients get confused. In 2007, police officer Sean Spencer detained Mónica González, a mother and grandmother who was 40 years old at the time, when she had an asthma attack and was walking down Third Avenue at dawn in search of medical attention. González, who was headed toward Lutheran Hospital, was arrested on charges of prostitution. Spencer’s mistake cost the city $35,000 in restitution.
A sex worker on Third Avenue who preferred to remain anonymous stressed that not only residents get harassed.
“There are nights when I don’t work, but there are clients who are pushy when they see me; they insult and harass me. What I do might offend some people, but I’m still a person.”
The sex worker said that her profession is very risky and violence is a challenge she has to deal with.
“There are clients who don’t pay, but I don’t report them for fear of getting arrested. Nobody takes a prostitute seriously; I don’t have a voice. I have colleagues whose lives are hell, and nobody pays attention to them.”
Susi (not her real name), 24 years old, has been working as a dancer at the Arcoíris Night Club at 50th Street and Third Avenue for two years. She said that residents are upset by the way the sex workers display themselves in public.
“We have to wear low necklines and be outside to attract clients. This job pays for my rent and lets me eat. The residents aren’t going to help me keep going if my business shuts down. Many women survive this way.”
A matter of public health
Karla Quiñones, a Mexican woman who heads the Adelante Alliance, a community organization that defends the rights of low-income Latinos in New York, expressed her unease about the overabundance of bars and dance halls, given that in the last few years, restaurants have chosen to change into night clubs. She emphasized that her organization has recently helped dancers that became prostitutes.
“One problem leads to another. Many women come to us with venereal diseases that their husbands gave them. Many of them don’t know where to go for medical attention,” said Quiñones.
Gabriel Rincón, a doctor and director of the Mixteca Organization, said that having girls in skimpy outfits walking around the neighborhood is a minor issue compared with the fact that many immigrants refuse to use a condom because of machismo, or sexism.
“It’s common for a group of immigrants who live in the same apartment to hire a girl that provides services to all of them. The risk of contracting diseases is greater,” said Rincón. “Many of them don’t go to the doctor. That should be our main concern.”
No trust in the Police
Quiñones and Dennis Flores, a Puerto Rican activist in the area who denounces cases of police brutality, agreed that sex trafficking leads to other social problems, but a “hunt for prostitutes” is not the answer.
Flores emphasized the proliferation of brothels and the excessive distribution of business cards that promote sex services in the neighborhood. He pointed out that the relationship between police and the community has deteriorated, so reporting crimes doesn’t have much of an effect.
“We don’t want prostitution to become a reason for police to indiscriminately detain people under the Stop and Frisk policy,” said Flores. “There are women walking in the streets who can become victims of sex trafficking. When they’re arrested and perhaps deported, they become victims twice.”
In 2008, Precinct 72 carried out various operations on Third Avenue. Activists said that since then, they have seen a smaller number of prostitutes on the streets, but they are worried by the growth of nightclubs that most likely also function as brothels.
The police wouldn’t say if investigations into brothels or sex trafficking are under way, but they have asked the community to report incidents since it makes it possible for them to bring charges against perpetrators.