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Few politicians aspire to bring the ambiance of Times Square to their districts, but state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said a stretch of Roosevelt Avenue that has grown saturated with prostitution could use some of the sterilization that transformed Times Square in the 1980s.
While speaking at Queensborough Community College April 3, Peralta described various legislative endeavors to crack down on sex traffickers and prostitution businesses and fund organizations that provide pathways out of the industry for victims.
The senator said afterward he believed recruiting Disney to open a store in Times Square anchored commercial development and ushered in an era of strict policing.
“We don’t need to bring in the big, big box store on Roosevelt Avenue — a mid-size box store,” Peralta said, noting he wanted to “keep the flavor of the mom-and-pop shops” nearby.
But the senator emphasized that wooing Disney took assistance from federal, state and local officials, and he is hoping Mayor Bill de Blasio would join him and U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) in scouting for a Roosevelt Avenue anchor.
As Times Square spurned prostitution, the industry migrated along the No. 7 train line, and Peralta said businesses began offering free car service to patrons from midtown to Corona and Jackson Heights.
“They descend on the stretch of Roosevelt Avenue from 69th Street to 112th Street ready for sex and willing to pay for it,” he said. “They patronize restaurants because there were packages being offered that include dinner, drinks and of course a woman.”
The gangs believed to be behind the brothels became so entrenched that Peralta said the business cards they distributed with photos of nude women and numbers were being picked up by children and traded like baseball cards.
In response, he introduced a bill banning such advertisements, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in summer 2011, but the senator said promoters promptly revised the so-called “chica chica” cards to showcase fruit or flowers and, when business began to suffer, women wearing bikinis or lingerie.
“Every time you think you’re one step ahead of these individuals, they’re two steps ahead,” he said.
In 2012, the city passed legislation requiring that the certification program for taxi and livery cab drivers incorporate education on the sex trafficking industry and inform drivers that they face a $10,000 penalty and the loss of their license if they use their vehicle to facilitate sex trafficking.
Peralta, who had sponsored a similar bill in the state Legislature, said those who were aware that many prostitutes are lured to the city with the promise of a lush lifestyle and then held captive would be less likely to do business with traffickers.
“Someone who understands the plight of these women, who recognizes that prostitution is often not a consensual business transaction, is also more likely to say something if they see something,” he said.
Now, the senator is pushing for legislation that would classify advancing or profiting from the prostitution of someone under 16, compelling prostitution and sex trafficking as violent felonies and extend the minimum sentence for such crimes to five years. The measure would permit judges to sentence those convicted of multiple offenses to life in prison under the state’s persistent violent offender law. He said he believed the measure has support in the Senate, but may get stalled in the state Assembly.
Students, who had read a book by a trafficking survivor called “The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine,” asked about ways to spread awareness.
Peralta called trafficking an epidemic, saying there are 27 million slaves today, more than during any other era, and that 80 percent of them are involved in sex trafficking.
“I wish that there could be a celebrity that could stand up and say I am going to stand up for this cause,” he said. “I happen to know Matt Damon’s agent .... I’m going to reach out.”
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
©2014 Community Newspaper Group
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