Hidden Crime

The New York Police Department is cracking down on sex trafficking in the five boroughs and setting up a hotline to help women forced into slavery. Flushing and Jackson Heights are the epicenter of the growing industry in New York City, which victimizes undocumented immigrants as well as many Americans.

Flushing is notorious for supplying Asian women as prostitutes to cities and towns along the New England thruway. Crime syndicates control the women, who are ordered to have sex against their will for money, which is turned over to their bosses. Some women from Flushing are driven to Long Island to sell their bodies and then brought back the same day.

Sex trafficking flourished in Jackson Heights after Times Square, rife with prostitution and the drug trade, was cleaned up in the mid-1990s. The Disney company helped lead the turnaround when it acquired a theater right on 42nd Street off Broadway, spurring a resurgence that drove the displaced denizens onto the No. 7 train and straight out to Jackson Heights.

Like Flushing, Jackson Heights is filled with vulnerable residents who came to the United States without papers and ended up being trafficked. Many victims are women and young girls, but men and boys are also targets. Transgender individuals are often exploited as well. The unwilling sex workers operate inside special vans that are driven to other parts of the borough and the city.

The NYPD plans to add 25 specially trained officers to its Vice Enforcement Unit to curb trafficking. Victims can call the hotline to report a crime and people who suspect someone is being trafficked can use the same tip service. The police are also taking aim at the pimps and patrons for prosecution.

Educated officers can be an effective weapon against sex trafficking, which is very difficult to detect, particularly in immigrant communities where language is often a barrier. The United States is the second largest destination for trafficked women and Queens is a major entry point.

As part of the effort to combat human trafficking, Queens College is hosting a project called Shut Out Trafficking from Feb. 8-15 organized by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and the National Consortium for Academics and Sports. The campaign, now in its third year, includes film screenings, discussion groups and talks from survivors to motivate students to protect children from predators.

These are positive steps to flush out this hidden crime from the shadows in Queens into the light.

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