Yellow taxis are an integral part of New York City, worldwide symbols of the metropolis itself. Stand on any New York street and a sea of yellow cabs drive by, many with taxi topper ads on their roofs promoting events and products from Broadway shows to luxury apparel. However, approximately one in five of these ads promote strip clubs. Every day, 8.5 million New Yorkers plus commuters and tourists, who double Manhattan’s population on a daily basis, absorb publicity for Flash Dancers, New York Dolls and Private Eyes, three major strip clubs owned by the same proprietors.
While legal across the U.S., strip clubs have clear links to commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking, as pimps and sex traffickers provide these places with a ready supply of vulnerable women and girls. Investigations into trafficking and prostitution in New York City have recognized these connections, including when four New York strip clubs were named in a federal organized crime case that found trafficking in these sex establishments. This relationship between prostitution, the end goal of sex trafficking, and strip clubs is also clear to sex buyers. One Yelp reviewer commented that Flash Dancers is “basically an Eastern European brothel” and hundreds of interviews with sex buyers show that men know they can always find minor girls in strip clubs.
Survivors of the sex trade testify that strip clubs and lap dance parlors act as launching pads to commercial sexual exploitation. Vednita Carter, founder and president of the survivor-led group Breaking Free, states that “stripping is a gateway into prostitution; it’s the place where the training begins.” Echoing those sentiments is Autumn Burris, who heads Survivors for Solutions, an organization she founded to foster survivor-led advocacy, leadership support and engagement. Both Ms. Carter and Ms. Burris were initiated into prostitution through strip clubs. They call on the public to demystify stripping as glamorous, harmless and empowering, and underline its links to trafficking, pornography and organized crime. “[S]trip clubs are closely related to sex trafficking and in many cases, if not most, is a form of sex trafficking,” Ms. Burris says. “For me, being on or off stage, scantily dressed, was a form of violence, humiliation, degradation and even torture.”
New York City’s more than 13,000 taxis make over 400,000 trips throughout the city every day and around 600,000 people a day opt to take a cab. The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) licenses and regulates New York City’s medallion taxicabs and other for-hire vehicles. The TLC also decides City policy regarding these vehicles and their drivers. Recognizing that taxi drivers can encounter situations of trafficking on the job, the TLC instituted a sex trafficking awareness and prevention program for all of its licensed drivers in 2012. Ironically, while the TLC calls on its drivers to recognize signs of sex trafficking, it allows strip club ads to promote the sexual exploitation of women and girls on taxi rooftops. The TLC must remove these ads from yellow cabs.
The TLC’s influence on New York’s taxi landscape is extensive, including its ability to decide whether advertisements on taxis violate community standards. Given the evidence showing how strip clubs are part and parcel of the multi-billion dollar exploitative global sex trade, the TLC needs to recognize that publicizing them on yellow cabs run contrary to the principles of human rights that New York City holds dear. New York City values its taxis and also prides itself in ensuring equality for all women. This goal cannot be attained when the denigration, dehumanization and degradation of women are promoted on New York City’s yellow taxis every day.
Please join the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women as we urge the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission to remove taxi topper ads promoting strip clubs from the City’s yellow cabs. Tell TLC Chair Meera Joshi that the City of New York values the human rights principles of equality and dignity for all, and that it will not tolerate publicity on its taxis for establishments linked to commercial sexual exploitation, violence against women and human trafficking.