Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail

The horror of sex trafficking in America and the abuse of immigrants. From The New York Times:
For years now, Flushing has been an ever-replenishing repository of immigrants entangled in the underground sex economy. The commonplace raids of illicit massage operations across the country routinely lead to the arrests of women with Flushing addresses. These parlors disappear and reappear with regularity, undermining the police crackdowns often prompted by neighborhood complaints. The industry’s opaqueness adds to the confusion. Some parlors have legitimate state licenses; some legitimate operations have masseuses making sex-for-money side deals; and some are illegally unlicensed, with no interest at all in addressing someone’s sore neck.

Emotionally manipulated by their bosses, ashamed of what they do, afraid to trust, the women rarely confide in the police or even their lawyers about their circumstances. They might be supporting a family in China, or paying back a smuggling debt, or choosing this more profitable endeavor over, say, restaurant work. No matter the backstory, the police say their collective silence further complicates law-enforcement efforts to build racketeering and trafficking cases against the operators. But society has become increasingly aware of the complexities and inequities of the commercial sex economy, including a criminal justice system that has tended to target the exploited — often immigrant women and members of the transgender community — while rarely holding accountable their customers and traffickers.

In early 2017, New York’s police commissioner, James O’Neill, announced at a news conference that he would redirect his vice division to address prostitution and sex trafficking. This would include training intended to alter what he called the “law-enforcement mind-set.” 

“We’ve already switched much of our emphasis away from prostitutes, and begun focusing much more on the pimps who sell them and the johns who pay for their services,” he said. “Like all crime, we can’t just arrest our way out of this problem.”

Since the establishment of this new “mind-set,” the police have continued to struggle at building criminal cases against the operators. But prostitution arrests in New York City have dropped more than 20 percent in the last year, while the arrests of customers have spiked. Still, this change in attitude at Police Headquarters in Lower Manhattan had not necessarily crossed the East River to benefit an immigrant now lying on her side, unable to speak, gazing up at a plainclothes officer trying to calm her until an ambulance arrived. Beside a spent cigarette, her blood pooled on the pavement she had so often worked.

By morning, Song Yang would be dead, shattering a tight Chinese family that would never accept the police version of events. Her death would also come to reflect the seemingly intractable nature of policing the sex industry, and cast an unwelcome light on the furtive but ubiquitous business of illicit massage parlors. (Read more.)

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