Crime / Jobs / News / Parks

Prostitution makes a comeback

New generation floods Hunts Point streets

Butterfly is an 18-year-old prostitute who works the block facing the Corpus Christi Monastery in Hunts Point.

She has been walking the streets of Hunts Point since she was 14.

Two years ago, she got out, staying with family in Westchester. But after a year-and-a-half in Pleasantville, in a setting she describes as peaceful, Butterfly returned to the Bronx and her life as an escort.

When she got back to Hunts Point several months ago, she found the neighborhood had changed: twice as many prostitutes are working the area now than when she left, she said.

According to Community Affairs Officer Aida Haddock of the 41st precinct, Butterfly is right. Prostitution is on the rise in Hunts Point.

Many feel impact
of prostitution

By Jesse Lent

When teen-aged girls walking home from the after-school program, Rocking the Boat were harassed and even attacked by men in search of the sex trade, Anita Antonetty asked the prostitutes who troll Edgewater Road and Lafayette Avenue for help.

“They told me ‘We can’t have that happening! We can’t let the children be affected by this!’” said Antonetty, then the organization’s job skills advocate.

The prostitutes promised to look out for the girls walking home from Hunts Point Riverside Park after dark.

The impact of prostitution extends beyond the closed circle of hookers, johns and pimps. “Hunts Point is all about prostitutes,” responded a fifth grader asked by the Hunts Point Alliance for Children to describe what’s bad about the neighborhood.

It hurts self-confidence when “at 7 you’re going to walk to school and walk past a prostitute and you’re going to know what that is,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive managing director of The Point Community Development Corp.

A 53-year-old neighborhood resident named Julio, who asked to have his last name withheld for fear of being associated with the sex trade, said prostitution has plagued the neighborhood for all of the 35 years that he has lived in the South Bronx.

The only change, he said, came when Rudolph Giuliani was mayor.

“Before he took over, the girls used to be naked, completely,” he said.

But Antonetty doesn’t think the kind of heightened police presence Giuliani instigated in the 1990s would be as effective today.

Instead, she said, “If there were random patrols, people wouldn’t know when the police would show, and they would get weary of conducting business.”

“All these tactics fall on the victim,” the prostitute, “not the predator,” the pimp, said Terry-Sepulveda, who says she has no solutions. “It’s just a constant tragedy,” she said. “I get depressed when I think about it.”

“Anything on that side of The Point,” Officer Haddock said, referring to the Lafayette Avenue side. “They’re kind of bringing it closer to Hunts Point Avenue now.”

And according to a 48-year-old prostitute working a block from Hunts Point Avenue, the new crop of sex workers in the neighborhood is a lot of younger than in the past.

The newcomers are “young, very young,” said the woman, who spoke on the condition that her name not be published. “And young pimps—no older than 30!”

She says these new pimps are dangerous for women like her who prefer to practice their trade independently. These men have tried to force her into working for them.

“If they know you work out here and you’re not going to work for them, they say ‘Something’s going to happen,’” she said.

When asked if that something meant they would hurt her, she nodded and replied, “Yes.”

But she still prefers to operate without a pimp, as she has for the 25 years she has worked as a prostitute.

“Why would I give my money to a man?” she asked. “The only one who can take my money is my grandkids!”

Yet for Butterfly, a pimp was her reason for returning to Hunts Point. She says she’s in love.

“When I first started this I wasn’t messing with pimps,” said Butterfly, who looks older than her years. “I was working independently. I used to get robbed a lot. I met somebody. At this moment, he’s the best thing in my life.”

Historically, the pimp protects prostitutes in return for half or more of their earnings. They are often sexually involved with the girls who work for them, and they make sure the customers pay.

Butterfly says there are three types of pimps.

The first type she calls a “player pimp,” doing it to have sex with as many girls as possible. The second is a “guerilla pimp,” who abuses the prostitutes who work for him. The third she calls a “finesse pimp” who is sweet to his prostitutes, giving them more money and treating them well.

The first two give the profession a bad name, according to Butterfly. She fell in love with a finesse pimp. She says he is a good man.

“Even though a pimp is a pimp, they’re still a person,” Butterfly said. “They still have feelings.”

Deputy inspector Philip Rivera, the commanding officer of the 41st Precinct, told The Hunts Point Express in September that police efforts to crack down on prostitution would be “reinvigorated,” with a heightened police response and new undercover operations. In October, his officers made 20 arrests for prostitution, he reported to Community Board 2.

But the problem still persists.

On a recent Wednesday morning between 2 and 3 a.m., at least four women were on the hunt for customers on the five-block stretch of Lafayette Avenue between Garrison Avenue and Faile Street.  No police were observed on that street, although there was a significant police presence in the surrounding area.

Haddock feels it is possible that the recession is the cause of what she calls the “big prostitution comeback” in Hunts Point.

“Economically, we’re not doing very good,” she said.

Ironically, the recent rise in prostitution comes less than eight months after HBO agreed to stop airing Buck Owens’s documentary “Hookers at the Point” about the area’s sex trade, because of neighborhood complaints that it was an inaccurate depiction of the area.

However, Ken Small, development director for Hunts Point non-profit organization Bronxworks, feels that Hunts Point is still ready for its close-up.

“My hope is that someone from HBO takes a look at the BankNote building and other locations in the Bronx,” Small said.

Back on Lafayette Avenue (across the street from the BankNote building), Butterfly describes how she needs a change. Although she loves her pimp, she says she can’t stand to remain a sex worker.

She worries when she sees the new neighborhood prostitutes, selling themselves on the same streets she did before they are even old enough to see an R-rated movie.

She sees runaways, “girls that don’t have anywhere to go,” and hopes someone will help them, help that for her never came.

“I wish when I was 16 in Hunts Point someone had come to look out for me,” she said.

A version of this story appeared in the November 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.

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