- October 17, 2021
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FOREST HILLS, QUEENS — The police shut down a Forest Hills spa on Tuesday after claims of sex work, but it was allowed to reopen days later, after the current tenant blamed the activity on a previous renter. Community members, however, have been making similar claims about the spa for months.
Pink Rose Beauty Spa, which is located at 71-49 Yellowstone Boulevard and advertises itself as a “luxury Asian massage spa,” was shuttered on Oct. 12 by police acting on a Queens Supreme Court order, a sign posted in the business’ window shows.
Police also issued a restraining order against the spa, deeming it illegal to take anything from the business or use it for any purpose — prostitution included, a sign reads.
An NYPD spokesperson confirmed that the department temporarily closed the spa on Oct. 12, three weeks after a report of illegal activity on Sept. 25.
An attorney for the current tenant, however, then reached out to the Police Department, saying that the renter recently moved into the spa — presumably after Sept. 25 — and wasn’t involved in any of the reported criminal activity, the police department said.
“We allowed them to reopen,” an NYPD spokesperson told Patch of Pink Rose Beauty Spa, adding that the current tenant will have to go to court and prove that they weren’t operating the spa when the sex work was reported.
On Friday, Patch reached out to the spa, which is listed online as “temporarily closed,” and someone answered and confirmed that the business was open. She said her English wasn’t good, and could not answer other questions.
Community members, however, first reported that people might be using the spa for sex work months ago; well before the police said that they got involved.
On Aug. 18, a neighbor issued a complaint to the Department of Buildings, writing that the spa was operating as a “brothel.”
“Google the phone number on the front door and you see they advertise sex. Men come and go late at night,” they wrote, adding that the spa is in a residential area and in close proximity to a synagogue.
The business is also named on several forums that advertise massage parlors where people are doing sex work.
A day later, the complaint was assigned to the Office of Special Enforcement, or OSE, which investigates illegal and unregulated industries citywide.
When Patch reached out to the OSE, however, a spokesperson said that the agency “hadn’t gotten around to investigating” this complaint because of staffing issues, and directed inquiries to the NYPD.
The New York Post reported that at least massage businesses across the city are operating as fronts for sex work, according to data from a counter-human trafficking organization. Over 42 percent of those businesses are reportedly in Queens.
While some experts quoted by the Post said that criminally prosecuting sex workers is a way to reduce human trafficking and third-party profiteers, sex workers have been fighting for decriminalization for decades.
In April, the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced that it will no longer prosecute people for prostitution and unlicensed massage.
“Over the last decade, we’ve learned from those with lived experience, and from our own experience on the ground: Criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer and, too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement.
The office will, however, continue to prosecute pimps and sex traffickers, and people who pay for sex — in effect moving the punishment from sex workers to those who exploit prostitution.
Some critics argued that this will still keep sex work underground, but Abigail Swenstein, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project, sees the move as a step in the right direction, in part because it was a decision made in collaboration with sex workers themselves.
“Countless sex workers, those profiled as sex workers, and trafficking victims have suffered under the weight of convictions and warrants,” Swenstein said in a statement. “These perpetual punishments extend into family and immigration court, and impact our clients’ ability to find stability through housing and employment.”
Swenstein argued that the state should still pass legislation to fully decriminalize sex work and expunge the criminal records of people convicted of prostitution-related crimes.
In Queens, District Attorney Melinda Katz dismissed hundreds of prostitution-related cases this March where people were charged with “Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution” under a state law repealed in February and known as the “walking while trans” ban, which critics said encouraged police to target transgender people.
Sex workers can still face prosecution in Queens, including fines and jail time.
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