Many women are forced into sex work after being trafficked against their will from other countries, and part of that travel is done in the back of New York City cabs.
At a press conference on Friday, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) introduced a bill which would require the Taxi and Limousine Commission to develop a program to teach drivers about sex trafficking as a prerequisite for licensure and renewal.
The course would help drivers recognize victims of trafficking and educate cabbies of their legal responsibility to alert authorities, lest they be accused of participating in a crime.
“Someone aware of this brutal reality is less likely to participate in the continued exploitation of these woman,” said Peralta. He added that many pimps offer a free delivery service, using cars — often with the same company — to transport women to johns gratis.
It is Peralta’s hope that by using cab drivers as look-outs, more sex traffickers can be prosecuted and more women saved from sex work and offered asylum.
His proposal to combat trafficking has received support from the TLC and from local cab services including Dominicana Radio Dispatch, based in Corona.
“The drivers working for my company are honest and hard-working,” said Felix Suero, president of Dominicana, “This bill will help make sure that future drivers stay that way too.”
Faith Huckel, founder of Restore, an organization that assists sex-trafficking victims, is hopeful that the legislation will help women exit prostitution.
“When you provide services, you actually see women transform their lives,” said Huckel, who runs a safe house for trafficking victims at an undisclosed location in Queens.
Women who have been trafficked are also eligible for victim’s visas and may be allowed to stay in the country regardless of their immigration status.
“There are some 27 million slaves in the world today, more than at any time in human history. Most are trafficked for commercial or sexual exploitation and 80 percent are female,” Huckel said.
She said women are often lured from their homes with promises of a good job or a false marriage. Some are kidnapped and others sold by their parents, husbands or boyfriends, and most are afraid to come forward.
Though sex trafficking remains a serious issue in the United States, Huckel said that of the 300 arrests made for prostitution in Queens County in 2010, only one of the victims was diverted to services for human trafficking.
However, Huckel is hopeful that legislation like Peralta’s and programs including those at the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, offering alternatives to incarceration, will help women who are forced into prostitution.
“I think the city is trying, but we have a long way to go,” Huckel said. “A lot of times women are arrested and the john is let go. That is blatant gender discrimination. At times it does come down to local law enforcement.”
Peralta said he also will be co-sponsoring a bill to raise fines and lengthen jail sentences for soliciting a prostitute, saying that it is “outrageous” that purchasing sex with a 10-year-old carries a penalty of only two to seven years in jail and a maximum fine of $5,000.
He has proposed additional legislation to ban the distribution of calling cards which often litter Roosevelt Avenue advertising prostitutes. The bill is being modified to avoid First Amendment issues.