Queens mom says short-stay motels allow teen trafficking

WOODSIDE, Queens (PIX11) – A Queens mother who said her troubled daughter was repeatedly lured out of the house has called police to better monitor short-term motels where teenagers are sexually exploited.

“I’ve asked them a hundred times, ‘Why isn’t my daughter getting an Amber Alert?'” Sarah Sankarsingh said of her dealings with local cops.

A day after PIX11 News interviewed Sankarsingh in late January, she said her daughter escaped the clutches of an older man at a Woodside motel on Queens Boulevard.

“She waited for him to fall asleep, taking his boots and his coat,” Sankarsingh said. “He had taken all his clothes.”

Sankarsingh’s teenage daughter had been missing for three weeks before they were reunited by a gas station on Queens Boulevard. She said NYPD detectives responded to Cohen Children’s Hospital, where the teenager was taken for evaluation on January 21.

Now the mother is asking for a closer look at motels where teenage boys are exploited by older men, especially as underage sex workers.

A 21-year-old Bronx woman who went by the name “Cookie” says she was 12 when another girl recruited her to work at a motel in a group foster home. Cookie said she was sexually abused by her older brother when she was five years old.

“It continued, so I was like, ‘Why not get paid for this?’ said Cookie “Why not do something to make money?”

Cookie said she often went to school and then left the foster home to meet on “dates” at a hotel near the Sutphin Boulevard Airline Station. She remembered the rates charged by the main girl and the pimp: $120 for 15 minutes and $160 for 30 minutes.

“I was going to all the hotels,” Cookie said. “I went to people’s homes.

Dawn Rowe, a social worker who is CEO of a non-profit organization called Girl Vow, said she remembered seeing the pimps in action at a hotel she visited.

“They have, like, a slew of rooms that are side by side, where they rent out,” Rowe recalled. “And they monitor the transactions that occur in each of these coins.”

Cookie said owners and managers of small hotels are aware of the ongoing activities.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz has known about illicit activity at some motels since she took over as the borough’s first female attorney.

“We found that transportation hubs in Queens, airports in particular, are really a hub for this type of activity,” Katz told PIX11 News, adding that hotels “give a sense of anonymity.”

The district attorney created a human trafficking office when she took over as lead prosecutor in Queens in 2020. Now Jessica Melton is the office’s chief prosecutor.

“We had 23 indictments against 37 traffickers for exploitation or trafficking,” Katz noted.

Her office has focused on getting resources for teenage girls and young women who are trying to leave life behind.

“We provide the infrastructure that is absolutely necessary to survive and thrive,” she said.