Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) was at Bland Playground in Flushing on Friday updating the public on efforts to eliminate prostitution in the area, especially at massage parlors.
The area near the playground, located at 40th Road and Prince Street has been a pick-up spot for prostitution for several years, according to Koo.
“We are approaching this as a multi-prong problem,” said Koo. “In the past, we always attacked the police for not arresting the girls, but now we are after the landowners.”
Owners of massage parlors are violating a clause in their lease that says that there should be no illegal activity at their business, and there will be a bigger push by Koo with the help of the 109th Precinct for the business operators of these establishments to lose their leases and get fined.
“They signed the clause and they have no excuse when the police come,” said Koo. “There will be vacate orders for the owners and they will be in trouble.”
Koo also hopes that the money loss with fines, the loss of their business and the loss of money from time in court will help put an end or curb the illegal prostitution in the area.
“We are also having police surveillance in the area so that the customers who go there for prostitution end up risking their privacy because the police are taking their pictures,” said Koo.
The Queens official also wants to put an end to fake massage parlors.
“Some of them illegally convert these rooms into massage parlors,” said Koo. “These rooms are too small, and they know they wouldn’t get permission to convert it so we are going to get them on fire department violations and building department violations and they are going to be fined in thousands of dollars.”
According to the most recent statistics from an NYPD spokeswoman Detective Sophia Mason DCPI, in 2018 there were 24 closings of legal and illegal massage parlors conducting prostitution within the 109th Precinct and 52 closings in total within Patrol Borough Queens North (PBQN).
While the same precinct arrested 17 people for prostitution and 34 people were arrested overall within PBQN.
“The NYPD works to end prostitution conditions and has shifted focus on enforcement operations to target pimps and johns primarily during anti-prostitution investigations and arrests, and on the closure of locations civil action was taken against landlords who are complicit in the illegal business of prostitution,” said Mason.
The councilman also wants to provide social services to the women in these prostitution rings that are either sexually abused or victims of sex trafficking.
“We offer the women community services from groups like Garden of Hope, which will talk to them, offer them a place to live, new skills, teach them English and help them find a new job for a new life,” said Koo. “We also have lawyer offices for victims of sex trafficking that will help them.”
Garden of Hope, which is a community organization that specializes in helping victims of abuse is located at 41-70 Main Street in room B3284 in Flushing.
The NYPD is also helping the victims of prostitution, according to its spokeswoman.
“The NYPD understands that many of the persons involved are doing so because they are being forced, coerced or otherwise made to against their will, and the Department works with its partners to offer services to those who may be victimized,” added Mason. “The NYPD facilitates the work of our partners in connecting the victims of human trafficking with social services.”
In lieu of jail time, sex workers are delivered to a diversion court where they can receive safe access to social service providers to assist the victims.
“We sympathize with the girls and understand for them this is a last resort,” said Koo, “but we work with the police to help them get away from their abusers and to let them know that there are other opportunities.”
When it comes to the idea of legalizing prostitution, Koo is completely against it. He fears that legalizing the sexual profession could lead to other forms of crime in the area, like drug dealing.
“Prostitution leads to other crimes,” said Koo. “You have pimps controlling this thing, which is sometimes intertwined with drugs and soon it would be them controlling drugs too. So right now, I say no to legalization.”
Koo will host an anti-prostitution seminar at the end of this month.