Pandemic prostitution increasingly profitable in Queens

When you see the women on certain street corners along Roosevelt Avenue in East Elmhurst, wearing mini skirts and sometimes schoolgirl skirts, you notice they’re often scanning their cell phones. Law enforcement believes that’s because they’re making contact with customers who find the women’s “massage” services on a website called Bedpage.com, or they’re simply steering them in off the street. Aren’t we in the middle of a pandemic? “I don’t believe that getting sick was one of their concerns,” said Miguel Collazo, special agent in charge of the Human Trafficking Task Force, Group 2, which looks at victims shuttled from China, Eurasia, and Russia, and then coerced into sex work. “There are gangs that have seen this as a very lucrative way for them to make money, and you also have individuals,” Collazo said. During our time watching one corner on Roosevelt Avenue, we saw several men arrive and head into a doorway about 50 feet from the main thoroughfare. Jesus Londono spoke to PIX11 News about the activity on Roosevelt Avenue because he was upset about losing his mother, Maria, to COVID-19 last year and found the parade of women near certain corners offensive. “They’re not contributing to the community,” Londono said, as the No. 7 elevated subway rattled overhead along Roosevelt Avenue. “What if they have COVID?” PIX11 traveled to several Queens neighborhoods that we’ve visited before, in pre-pandemic days, and found signs of solicitation on 40th Road, off Main Street, in Flushing, where the NYPD Vice Squad had shut down a number of day spas in 2019 and slapped them with prostitution violations. Maya Morena, an activist and college student who says she did some escort work before the pandemic, doesn’t believe all the women are being trafficked. “It’s hard to regulate survival, which is what I see it as,” Morena said. “I definitely think the environment is more different because of COVID,” Morena added. “There’s definitely a lot more desperation, in terms of street-based sex work.” Still, Christopher Muller-Tabanera, national director of Heyrick Research, thinks at least 80% of the women involved in sex work are not doing so by choice. “We’re talking about organized crime, network-type activity,” Muller-Tabanera said. “Managers, bosses and traffickers are in this to make money,” he noted, “still wanting women to provide services despite the public health crisis.” Trafficking can involve forced sex work or other forms of labor. Agent Collazo said a Department of Justice study in 2015 found trafficking was a $32 billion industry. “By all accounts, the new studies today are indicating that it is a $150 billion business,” Collazo said. “That’s almost a five-time increase.” A study by Heyrick Research recently estimated there are 629 illicit massage businesses in all of New York City. Queens, by far, had the most of any borough, with at least 269.

Pandemic prostitution increasingly profitable in …

News /

When you see the women on certain street corners along Roosevelt Avenue in East Elmhurst, wearing mini skirts and sometimes schoolgirl skirts, you notice they’re often scanning their cell phones.

Law enforcement believes that’s because they’re making contact with customers who find the women’s “massage” services on a website called Bedpage.com, or they’re simply steering them in off the street.

Aren’t we in the middle of a pandemic?

“I don’t believe that getting sick was one of their concerns,” said Miguel Collazo, special agent in charge of the Human Trafficking Task Force, Group 2, which looks at victims shuttled from China, Eurasia, and Russia, and then coerced into sex work.

“There are gangs that have seen this as a very lucrative way for them to make money, and you also have individuals,” Collazo said.

During our time watching one corner on Roosevelt Avenue, we saw several men arrive and head into a doorway about 50 feet from the main thoroughfare.

Jesus Londono spoke to PIX11 News about the activity on Roosevelt Avenue because he was upset about losing his mother, Maria, to COVID-19 last year and found the parade of women near certain corners offensive.

“They’re not contributing to the community,” Londono said, as the No. 7 elevated subway rattled overhead along Roosevelt Avenue. “What if they have COVID?”

PIX11 traveled to several Queens neighborhoods that we’ve visited before, in pre-pandemic days, and found signs of solicitation on 40th Road, off Main Street, in Flushing, where the NYPD Vice Squad had shut down a number of day spas in 2019 and slapped them with prostitution violations.

Maya Morena, an activist and college student who says she did some escort work before the pandemic, doesn’t believe all the women are being trafficked.

“It’s hard to regulate survival, which is what I see it as,” Morena said.

“I definitely think the environment is more different because of COVID,” Morena added. “There’s definitely a lot more desperation, in terms of street-based sex work.”

Still, Christopher Muller-Tabanera, national director of Heyrick Research, thinks at least 80% of the women involved in sex work are not doing so by choice.

“We’re talking about organized crime, network-type activity,” Muller-Tabanera said.

“Managers, bosses and traffickers are in this to make money,” he noted, “still wanting women to provide services despite the public health crisis.”

Trafficking can involve forced sex work or other forms of labor.

Agent Collazo said a Department of Justice study in 2015 found trafficking was a $32 billion industry.

“By all accounts, the new studies today are indicating that it is a $150 billion business,” Collazo said. “That’s almost a five-time increase.”

A study by Heyrick Research recently estimated there are 629 illicit massage businesses in all of New York City.

Queens, by far, had the most of any borough, with at least 269.

Rain and blustery winds; temps dip in the upcoming …

Weather /

Grab those umbrellas because another storm system has arrived New York City.

Massive fire rips through top floor of Harlem apartment …

News /

A five-alarm fire in a Manhattan apartment building early Saturday morning has left seven firefighters and two residents with minor injuries.

NYPD, Philadelphia PD searching for alleged shooting …

News /

NYPD and Philadelphia police department are partnering in a manhunt. They are looking for the guy who shot a gas station employee in the Bronx and a Pennsylvania parking enforcement officer.

‘Scars for the rest of my life,’ victim suffering …

News /

Police are hunting for a young woman who threw an acid-like substance into the face of another strap hanger for no apparent reason. 

‘Ain’t No Mo’ makes it to Broadway

News /

Celebrities were everywhere Thursday night as the much-talked-about play "Ain't No Mo," which made its debut at the Public Theater a few years ago, finally has made it to Broadway.

Community gives back to restaurant after break-in, …

News /

PIX11 News helped restore heat and hot water to an East Harlem building, and highlighted a Harlem restaurant, still trying to bounce back from a break-in.

Ukrainian, American choirs singing at Carnegie Hall …

News /

It’s a one-time-only concert at Carnegie Hall this weekend. Several Ukrainian and American choirs are singing together to raise funds for Ukraine.

Questions remain about Mayor Adams’ plan to treat …

News /

Just days after Mayor Eric Adams announced his new plan to have first responders remove people from streets and subways, there are still major concerns, especially from the unions that represent first responders.

Rain in the weekend forecast for New York City

Weather /

Get the umbrellas ready for Saturday because a storm system is approaching the New York City area.

Moose on the Loose: USA vs. Netherlands in World …

News /

The United States has a chance to take a step forward as a soccer nation against the Netherlands in the Round of 16 of the World Cup Saturday morning. This is arguably the USA’s most talented team in decades, says PIX11's Marc Malusis.

2 public bathrooms appear on Brooklyn Bridge

News /

Two public portable toilets have popped up by the Brooklyn Bridge, located on the Manhattan side of the bridge near the entrance.

NYC public schools exempt from Mayor Adams’ trash …

News /

Mayor Eric Adams plans to enforce certain new waste regulations in April in an effort to make the city's streets cleaner. Only after 8 p.m., or 6 p.m. if containerized, can the trash be left on the street.

Latest Video

Rain and blustery winds; temps dip in the upcoming …

Weather /

Massive fire rips through top floor of Harlem apartment …

News /

NYPD, Philadelphia PD searching for alleged shooting …

News /

‘Scars for the rest of my life,’ victim suffering …

News /

‘Ain’t No Mo’ makes it to Broadway

News /

Community gives back to restaurant after break-in, …

News /

Ukrainian, American choirs singing at Carnegie Hall …

News /

Questions remain about Mayor Adams’ plan to treat …

News /

Rain in the weekend forecast for New York City

Weather /

Moose on the Loose: USA vs. Netherlands in World …

News /

2 public bathrooms appear on Brooklyn Bridge

News /

NYC public schools exempt from Mayor Adams’ trash …

News /

Weather

Rain in the weekend forecast for New York City

Weather /

NY, NJ forecast: Sunny with seasonable temps; weekend …

Weather /

NYC Forecast: A chilly start to December

Weather /

NY, NJ weather forecast: Sunny skies, gusty winds …

Weather /

NYC Forecast: Winds will continue, temperatures take …

Weather /

NY, NJ weather forecast: Rain, strong winds blow …

Weather /

NYC Forecast: Wet and windy to start December

Weather /

NY, NJ weather forecast: Sun mixes with clouds on …

Weather /

Cold air, sunshine stick around for now in NY, NJ

Weather /

NY, NJ weather forecast: Windy fall day with mostly …

Weather /

Weather should dry out for start of workweek

Weather /

Cloudy, rainy end to holiday weekend in NY, NJ

Weather /

Morning News

The ‘Tree Ladies’ celebrate PIX-mas in NYC

News /

PIX11’s Christmas tree is here! Watch the festivities …

News /

PIX11’s Christmas tree is here! Watch the decoration

News /

NYC DOE leader, parent on $200M special education …

News /

NYPD Chief of Patrol wants to lower crime in NYC

News /

The amazing Grace Caroline Currey

News /

Ty Simpkins is made for movies as he stars in ‘The …

News /

New video appears to show suspects in fatal Fordham …

News /

Boy, 14, fatally shot on Bronx street, suspects sought: …

News /

Specialist raises awareness for World AIDS Day 2022

News /

‘Chucky’ star Bjorgvin Arnarson talks season 2 finale

News /

‘WEDNESDAY’ STAR JOY SUNDAY IS ENTERTAINING 7 DAYS …

News /

Sports

Moose on the Loose: USA vs. Netherlands in World …

News /

Staten Island football team headed to Pop Warner …

News /

Queens native becomes 1st female to make NCAA Division …

News /

Moose on the Loose: Don’t give up on the Giants

News /

Moose on the Loose: Jets quarterback Mike White

News /

Fans in Hoboken celebrate crucial World Cup win for …

News /

USA v Iran, 2022 FIFA World Cup

News /

Moose on the Loose: Critics hush, Brunson proven …

News /

New York Living

How the ‘She Did That’ Bazaar is lifting up Black …

Lifestyle /

Holiday travel tips from Travelzoo’s senior editor

Lifestyle /

Manhattan Youth Ballet performs ‘The Knickerbocker,’ …

Lifestyle /

Feel the festivities at Union Square’s holiday market

Lifestyle /

Feel the festivities at Union Square’s holiday market

Lifestyle /

Mindset coach shares tips to combat holiday blues

Lifestyle /

Movie-buffs rejoice, Dances with Films fest starts …

News /

Editor for Time Out New York shares holiday activities …

Lifestyle /

Double Dutch Holiday Classic returns for its 31st …

Lifestyle /

Learn about the TriLatino Trianthlon Club

Lifestyle /

Dietitian details how to not be an almond parent

News /

‘Two Blind Brothers’ host their first pop up shop …

Lifestyle /