Inside the Hidden World of Sex Trafficking on Long Island
By Timothy Bolger
March 18, 2010
Rosa* was about to cross the United States-Mexico border when her coyote, or human smuggler, ordered the 22-year-old to have sex with him and told her that the promise of a job in computers or modeling in New York was a trick to force her into prostitution. Tracy*, 18, a product of the Boston foster care system, had been sold from one pimp to another until she was arrested for prostitution on Long Island; she told her story to investigators and was admitted to a shelter for human trafficking victims.
Rosa is staying in a group home where authorities hope that she will one day get to testify against her traffickers.
Tracy checked herself out of the shelter three days later and hasn’t been seen since.
The two are but a glimpse of the untold number of victims swept up in the global and domestic sex trafficking trade—mostly women under 25, one-third of them minors—who have been forced, coerced or duped into a life of selling sex. Up to 200,000 are reportedly U.S. citizens, in addition to more than 17,000 Hispanic, Asian and Eastern European immigrants, but experts say such statistical estimates are virtually impossible to verify. The approximately $9.5 billion human trafficking trade is among the top three criminal markets worldwide alongside illegal drug and arms dealing, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“A lot of these guys go to these places once, twice a week,” Birbiglia says from his office in an undisclosed secluded building. One pimp, whom Birbiglia calls “Brazilian Joe,” told him he brings women from Connecticut and New Jersey to hotels and motels on Long Island for one reason alone: “The men in Nassau County have money.”
Brazilian Joe, whom Birbiglia did not identify because his case is still being investigated, will likely be deported thanks to the victims that identified him. But another trafficker will quickly fill the void, he says. It’s just the nature of the beast.
As long as there are those willing to pay for sex, trafficking will continue to fuel the prostitution industry played out in Internet ads, in the back rooms of certain strip clubs and in covert brothels disguised as massage parlors in strip malls across LI.
This article was published less than 2 months before Shannan Gilbert disappeared. There was a pending court case that Shannan was scheduled to appear. Ruis was her former pimp, and although I don’t have the proof just yet, I don’t think it’s a far stretch of the imagination to believe he played a large roll in trafficking Shannan, and likely many other women.
I’m unsure of the outcome of Ruis’ case, but I will take the time to investigate it further. (This is my official reminder to myself.)
To really make a change in this victimization and exploitation of women, it’s time the laws change to give the victims of prostitution (the women) immunity from prosecution to give up their clientelle, the pimps, the drivers, the businesses, the traffickers, the handlers, etc. Forget the little “john” stings (pun intended). That’s like slapping a bandaid on a severed limb. It’s not going to stop a thing, it just forces the men deeper into hiding and gets the women hurt. Even Spitzer signed the anti-sex trafficking law… anything is possible.