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Time Out New York / Issue 575 : Oct 5–11, 2006
Old profession, new tricks
Where have all the streetwalkers gone? They’re still getting busy—just notoutdoors.
By Jennifer CunninghamTHE WAGES OF SKIN Hookers and hustlers walk the streets in 1954, 1965 and 1971(above), and 1988 and 1995 (below).
“It seems like prostitution is the new temp job. But you don’t see those dolled-uphookers on the street anymore. I kind of miss them.”From Colonial times to the 1980s, the New York City streets after dark were the domain of the “working girls.” In Manhattan, anyone could see them on the stroll in Times Square, theEast Village, Harlem, the Meatpacking District and Hell’s Kitchen, among other places, asthey beckoned johns with come-hither stares, barely there lingerie-laden outfits andpromises of a tawdry good time. But today, nearly 13 years after Mayor Rudy Giulianilaunched a citywide crackdown on prostitution and (just as importantly) ten years after themass popularization of the Internet, trolling for a hooker on 42nd Street is more likely togenerate some confused looks—or to offend a nice family exiting
The Lion King
—than getyou laid.With the streets no longer an open marketplace, sex workers sought new, hassle-free waysto ply their trade. They now conduct business in hotels, massage parlors, spas and eventheir own homes; instead of having to display their wares on the sidewalk, they’readvertising on the Web and in newspapers and magazines. Hundreds of subtly codedclassifieds each week proclaim an available “GFE” (girlfriend experience) or “trips to Greece”for 200 “roses” and up. As anyone who’s watched late-night public access knows, escortservices abound; many of them can be found on websites such as Craigslist, the Eros Guideand City Vibe, reaching out to eager clients.Meanwhile, in the darkest regions of the flesh-peddling business, many illegal aliens arebeing forced to prostitute themselves at under-the-radar brothels in immigrantneighborhoods. In August, for just one example, law enforcement officials broke up a Koreanprostitution ring that operated at least 19 such houses in the Northeast.Dr. Yvonne Downes, professor of criminology at Hilbert College in Hamburg, New York, saysthat while there have been no formal studies, “it’s very likely” that prostitution is much lessstreet-based. “So many johns now feel uncomfortable picking up girls on the street,”Downes says.And those who still sell themselves outside usually have nowhere else to go, says JuhuThukral, director of the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center in New York, whichdescribes itself as the first program in the country to focus on providing legal services, legaltraining, documentation and policy advocacy for prostitutes. According to a 2005 report bythe Sex Workers Project, 87 percent of sex workers who still walk the pavement arehomeless or live in “unstable homes.” “The people who are left on the street have the fewestresources,” Thukral says. “So there’s less [prostitution on the street]—but it’s still definitelyhappening.”Donna P., 58, a former vice girl who now employs a dozen women at her own midtownmassage parlor, says that being off the sidewalk means women are simply less visible tolaw enforcement. “When I was working [on the streets] myself, I was arrested inWashington, D.C.,” says Donna, a maternal, petite woman with a broad smile. “I had anumber of close calls and I constantly had to dodge the police.”Still, Donna says, the indoor sex industry is no haven from the law. In June, cops arrestedAndreia Schwartz, an alleged high-class hooker who oversaw a bevy of beauties at a West58th Street brothel and reportedly told the police that her two top “sugar daddies” paid her atotal of $250,000 for sex (she was sent to Rikers pending $1 million bail). Also in June, copsbusted five people in the city who were advertising sexual services on Craigslist.Overall, though, the advantages of modern technology and the comforts of an indoor rendezvous mean the days when transvestite hookers lined the West Side Highway aren’t
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