Prompted by a wide-ranging investigation into the cases of about 15 girls who said they were forced into prostitution, District Attorney Charles J. Hynes of Brooklyn said Wednesday that he was creating a Sex Trafficking Unit to take aim at those who sexually exploit women and girls.
Times Topic: Sexual Slavery
Eight people have been indicted on charges that include sex trafficking or promoting prostitution as a result of the investigation.
About eight months ago, a Brooklyn teenager told an official at her school that she had been forced into prostitution. Building on her story, investigators uncovered more cases of girls who were raped, threatened with violence and forced to sell their bodies to meet daily quotas, an official said.
“There are perhaps few more despicable crimes than to force 15- and 16-year-old children into prostitution,” Mr. Hynes said.
The pimps sometimes started off as boyfriends or had acquaintances recruit friends and schoolmates from local high schools and middle schools, luring girls with promises of cash and “a generous lifestyle,” he added.
Instead, the men used threats and violence to force the women to meet quotas of $500 a day or more, meeting clients at sex parties or through the “adult services” categories of Craigslist and other Web sites.
The eight suspects were charged in four indictments referring to separate cases in northeastern Brooklyn. Some of the suspects are believed to be affiliated with the Bloods street gang. Three remain at large. The charges were reported in The Daily News on Wednesday.
Prosecutors say Abking Wilcox, 30, recruited women and girls as young as 15 into prostitution from schools in Bushwick and Brownsville from 2007 to 2009. Mr. Wilcox and other gang members operated a loose-knit affiliate called the Horse Gang in reference to the “stable” of prostitutes they maintained, the indictment charges. Mr. Wilcox was held on $25,000 bail on Wednesday. He pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer declined to comment.
In another case, a mother and son were charged with forcing a 16-year-old girl who had come to stay with them into sex work. According to the indictment, Tenisha Sanders, 37, allowed a friend of her teenage daughter to stay at her home, where her son Eric, 18, threatened the girl and forced her to engage in sex acts. A cousin of Tenisha Sanders, Bernadette Mosley, herself a prostitute, escorted the girl to meet johns and collected money from them, according to prosecutors.
At State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, relatives of the Sanderses said the charges were untrue. Erica Sanders, 17, said the 16-year-old had been a classmate at Olympus Academy. The girl complained of problems at home and came to stay at the Sanderses’ residence in January, but it quickly became clear that she was a troublemaker, Ms. Sanders said. Eric Sanders’s companion, Keyaria Garrett, 22, who said she had lived with the family for two years, said of the girl, “She’s lying. He didn’t touch her.”
Tenisha Sanders was arraigned and held on $500,000 bail. She pleaded not guilty; her lawyer did not immediately return a call for comment. Her son was expected to be arraigned on Thursday. Authorities have not yet found Ms. Mosley.
As investigators built the cases, the need for a more comprehensive approach to the growing problem of domestic sex trafficking became apparent, Mr. Hynes said. Gang involvement in the sex trade, and associated violence and exploitation, seemed to be a growing problem that called for more vigorous prosecution, he said.
But such prosecutions also require other tools. Victims, particularly minors, are often fearful of speaking out against their pimps and need extensive counseling and other services.
Meanwhile, questions linger on how teachers, parents and others could have missed warning signs. To that end, the new unit, which will use existing staff and funds, will go into schools and community centers “to raise awareness of sex trafficking and its potential signs,” like physical injuries, unexplained income, fearfulness around a dating partner and unexplained disappearances.