NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland speaks with Newsday investigative reporter Sandra Peddie to break down the number of prostitution arrests on LI.

After a troubled childhood marred by sexual abuse and drug use, a teenage Jasmine Krokowski ran away from home. She met a man who promised to take care of her but who instead beat her daily and sold her for sex.

Her parents reported her missing, but under duress from the man who had become her pimp, she told police she was OK. The police, she said, didn’t pursue it in 2016.

“I was in high school,” she said. “They said, ‘Goodbye, good luck.’ ”

Krokowski later was arrested and went through drug treatment. It wasn't until a year later that she realized that she needed to get sober in order to have a life for herself. “When I finally had some clarity, I just ran with it,” she said.

But she’s keenly aware that her story could have ended differently, like the victims of the Gilgo Beach serial killer. She said her parents reached out to police, her school and Child Protective Services, but were met with indifference. In fact, she said CPS closed her case without talking to her.

Had someone stepped in, she said, she would have been saved from a lot of abuse.

“I felt failed by the system,” she said.

Newsday does not identify sexual abuse survivors without their consent. Krokowski said she wanted to go public in order to help other victims of sex trafficking.

Arrests of sex traffickers are down, fewer victims are getting mandated services and some experts say trafficking will grow on Long Island without more aggressive law enforcement.

Arrests and successful prosecution of traffickers have dropped dramatically since 2017, despite millions in government grants aimed at curbing sex trafficking. Sex trafficking cases have declined from a peak of 77 cases in 2017 to just five cases in 2021, the latest data available, according to the New York State Division of Criminal and Justice Services.

“The numbers have been consistently trending downward,” said Janine Kava, spokeswoman for the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Moreover, bureaucratic obstacles block services for victims, particularly child victims, according to advocates. A group of professionals seeking to secure legally mandated services for child sex trafficking victims repeatedly tried to contact local and state officials working on human trafficking for assistance, but were ignored, rebuffed or put off, according to emails obtained by Newsday.

“Here we are, roughly 13 years since the Gilgo murders, and not much has changed on Long Island as far as prosecuting human trafficking cases,” said Keith Scott, a Long Island University adjunct professor who teaches courses on family violence. “There’s not much in the way of prosecutions and not much in the way of services available for sex workers.”

Here we are, roughly 13 years since the Gilgo murders and not much has changed on Long Island as far as prosecuting human trafficking cases.

Keith Scott, Long Island University professor

Photo credit: Kendall Rodriguez

With the rise of social media, law enforcement has seen prostitution move from the streets to online. The internet allows pimps to not only recruit girls and young women, but to advertise and schedule appointments more efficiently, dramatically increasing their profits, said Gerard Gigante, former Suffolk chief of detectives who started the department’s human trafficking unit.

Many sex buyers, like alleged Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex A. Heuermann, contact sex workers online.

“Now, you have an infinite amount of people that can do a search and you can be accessible to any one of those people. So with that, with quantity, comes money. And it became a business,” Gigante said, adding that the victimization of women has increased “exponentially.”

The amount of trafficking that is occurring is difficult to quantify because of the hidden nature of the activity, but authorities say they’ve identified 300-400 trafficking victims in Suffolk alone.

“If you’re selling drugs or guns, it’s a one-time sale. But a person can be sold again and again. It’s a high-profit, sort of low-risk crime,” said Dr. Santhosh Paulus, senior program director of Northwell’s human trafficking task force.

If you’re selling drugs or guns, it’s a one-time sale. But a person can be sold again and again. It’s a high-profit, sort of low-risk crime.

Dr. Santhosh Paulus, Northwell human trafficking task force

The recognition that many prostitutes are victims because they were forced into sex work has spurred an increase in the attention paid to sex trafficking, said Elizabeth Geddes, a former assistant U.S. attorney now in private practice.

She said sex trafficking has been a “huge focus” of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn in recent years and that prosecutors had to turn down cases because there was so much of it.

State and federal statutes generally define sex trafficking as using force, fraud or coercion to compel someone to engage in commercial sex. Long Island is among the top 20 destinations for human trafficking, according to a report by the Department of Justice's Community Oriented Police Services unit.

Despite that, records show a relatively small number of cases and fewer resources to fight it:

  • Since 2017, Suffolk County has secured more than $8 million in federal and state grant money to fight human trafficking, with more than $5 million of that going to the Suffolk County Police Department, records show. Former District Attorney Tim Sini held multiple press conferences to publicize the effort. Yet, the department has cut its human trafficking unit from eight people to enough money to pay one detective, according to Suffolk’s operating budget.
  • Successful prosecutions of sex trafficking cases have declined at the local level. There was one conviction in Suffolk in 2021, according to court records and news releases. In Nassau, there were two in 2021 — one for child sex trafficking and one for sex trafficking — and one in 2023 for child sex trafficking, according to information supplied by the Nassau District Attorney's Office. Federal authorities in the Eastern District of New York, which covers Long Island, charged seven cases in 2023, and four with substantive sex trafficking charges and two with sex trafficking conspiracy in 2022.
  • Despite a state law that mandates services for people who are deemed victims of sex trafficking, records show that only a small number of victims have been referred to the state to be eligible for services. 
  • The Nassau County Police Department, which has no human trafficking unit, has not responded to requests about sex trafficking-related arrests. Data supplied by DCJS shows sharp declines in arrests of prostitutes and sex buyers in the last decade in Nassau: from 214 prostitution arrests in 2013 to 22 through Dec. 15, 2023, and from 102 arrests of sex buyers in 2013 to none through Dec. 15, 2023.

The reasons given for the dwindling enforcement and services vary. Prosecutors said trafficking cases are difficult for law enforcement to make because there is less activity in public. Moreover, victims are often reluctant to cooperate, particularly when pimps use technology, such as cellphone apps, to monitor them constantly.

“There are incredible complexities when it comes to investigating and prosecuting sex trafficking cases that make securing indictments difficult,” Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly said in an emailed statement.

“Many victims have suffered prior sexual abuse, do not self-identify as victims, and sadly, have formed trauma bonds to their traffickers, making them largely unwilling to speak to law enforcement.”

Donnelly said it can take years for prosecutors to build rapport with victims, and, “Even then, cases may not go forward because a witness decides to no longer cooperate.”

But advocates suggest a sinister reason: Some sex buyers hold powerful positions in society.

“I think we can say with a great deal of confidence, if we ever interceded in a way that identified a significant subset of the buyers of sex, it would include a lot of people we would be really shocked are buying sex,” because many are professionals and often are married, said Joshua Hanson, executive director of The Safe Center, a nonprofit that works with human trafficking and domestic violence victims in Nassau County.

If we ever interceded in a way that identified a significant subset of the buyers of sex, it would include a lot of people we would be really shocked are buying sex.

Joshua Hanson, The Safe Center

Photo credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

In 2013, former Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice led a highly publicized effort, dubbed “Flush the Johns” to criminally charge sex buyers. Lawyers, doctors and other professionals were among those charged. 

“I think there’s a tension there about how deeply do we want to investigate these things,” Hanson said.

‘Not a choice’         

For Gigante, the trafficking case that sticks with him came in 2014. Detectives looking for a missing 15-year-old girl found two girls held captive by a pimp in the basement of a house in Lindenhurst. One was tethered to a wall. Both girls were terrified of their pimp: He choked one of his girls so hard she passed out, and he made another shower before he whipped her with an extension cord. The pimp used a Taser on one girl until she could smell her flesh burn, according to court records.

“That’s not a choice,” Gigante said.

Human trafficking will spread if law enforcement doesn’t keep focused on it, he said.

“Things grow if you don’t put it in check,” Gigante said. “And once you get gangs involved, you don’t address it, it’s going to keep growing.”

The pimp, Andy Gayot, was convicted of sex trafficking in June 2016 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Around the same time as the discovery of the girls in the basement, Suffolk police noticed an increase in robberies, assaults and other crimes associated with prostitution at local hotels. To address it, the department formed the human trafficking unit in 2018. The unit made cases, steered victims to services and also gathered “a wealth of information” that led to solving other crimes, Gigante said.

Former Suffolk Police Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante in North Babylon in August 2023. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The police department secured federal grant money to fund the effort, eventually garnering more than $5.2 million. At least $472,503 of that has gone to pay police overtime since 2019, according to county records. Records requests seeking the individual amounts and reasons for the overtime are pending.

After the launch of the unit, Sini, then Suffolk district attorney, said it had dramatically increased sex trafficking arrests, from just five in the previous decade to nine in the first year of the unit’s operation. Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who left office Dec. 31, later was quoted as crediting the unit with sparking a 900% increase in trafficking indictments.

Though the numbers sounded impressive, few trafficking convictions resulted. Sini declined to comment.

Since 2018, the Suffolk Police Department has made 21 arrests in sex trafficking cases involving a child under 18, according to department statistics. Only four of those cases resulted in trafficking convictions, according to state data. The Suffolk District Attorney’s Office has twice declined to respond to questions about the disposition of the other cases.

In addition, the police department has cut back the human trafficking unit. Eight people were originally assigned to the unit, but the Suffolk County operating budget shows that money allocated for the unit has been cut by 70% since 2021, from a total of $595,443 to $179,993 — enough money to pay one detective. 

Asked in an interview last August if the unit had been disbanded, former Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison, who left his position in December, said it had not. Asked how many people were assigned to the unit, Harrison said he didn’t know. 

He said that when he first became commissioner, he sat down with “multiple, different units” to discuss it. 

Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney, who took office in January 2022, said his office had created a new human trafficking investigations unit that investigated 11 cases and made seven arrests in 2022, according to the proposed 2024 county budget.    

Tierney said in an email the new unit is staffed with two veteran prosecutors to oversee human trafficking investigations and that his office indicted two new cases in 2023. In one of the cases, his office also indicted a sex buyer on charges ranging from rape to aggravated patronizing a minor for prostitution, “because combating demand is key to ending human trafficking.”

Obstacles to services

Under New York State’s 2007 anti-trafficking law, people who are confirmed as sex trafficking victims are entitled to legal assistance in vacating a criminal conviction, emergency housing, mental health care, job training and job placement, according to a trafficking handbook by the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Researchers say the need is great. Colby Valentine is a University of South Florida associate professor and research evaluator for Suffolk’s anti-trafficking initiative ECLI-VIBS, which stands for Empowerment Collaborative of Long Island and Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk. Valentine said that ECLI-VIBS provided services to 345 sex and labor trafficking victims from January 2019 to May 2023.

The Suffolk County Jail, which screens all inmates for sex trafficking, has collected data on 327 victims and 205 traffickers, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said.

Yet, just 24 people from Long Island — 21 in Suffolk and three in Nassau — have been confirmed as sex trafficking victims and qualified for services as of December 2023, according to state OTDA data.

Since 2018, a total of 49 sex trafficking victims in Suffolk and 25 in Nassau have been confirmed.

The numbers reflect a stark reality: Few victims are getting referred for emergency services because the professionals who are allowed by law to make referrals don’t know about it, said Barbara Walsh, an attorney working with a team of professionals seeking services for 20 confirmed child sex trafficking victims. 

But the problem goes deeper than that. Even victims who have been confirmed for services are not getting them, she said.

“We cannot confirm, despite my team’s very best efforts, that any child who has been confirmed as a trafficking victim by OTDA has received services — other than one tattoo removal — as a result of the referral process,” Walsh said.

She shared emails showing that her team has sought help getting emergency services from both state and county officials, but has been rebuffed or ignored.

“When you’re seeking guidance and information, you don’t get any,” Walsh said.

On June 15, she emailed the commissioners of both the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and the Department of Criminal Justice Services asking for help in overcoming the “significant obstacles that we have encountered in accessing services.”

The previous month, she reached out via email to the state’s Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, which was set up to ensure that law enforcement and social services providers get the training necessary to comply with the law. She said the process to get services “has been obstacle-ridden for sex-trafficked minors residing in Suffolk County.”

She did not get a response initially. After an inquiry from Newsday, she received an email from task force co-chairs Julina Guo and Estelle Davis thanking her for her concerns and saying that they “have taken them under consideration.” They also said they had contacted Suffolk County officials about services for trafficked minors.

The team also had a meeting with Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Frances Pierre and Chief Deputy Commissioner Sandra Davidson. Davidson advised the team not to contact the county official charged with being the liaison on human trafficking issues, according to the May 25 email Walsh sent the task force.

When team members contacted the woman designated as the human trafficking liaison, she was unaware that she had been given that role, Walsh said in the email.

Pierre and Davidson did not respond to a request for comment. 

Pushback to arrests

Former Nassau District Attorney Rice held a widely covered news conference in June 2013 to announce the arrests of 102 sex buyers in an operation she called “Flush the Johns.” In a first for Nassau County, their names, ages and hometowns were made public, along with their arrest photos — displayed prominently on a poster board.

The pushback was immediate. The Nassau criminal courts bar association president blasted her for trying to “stigmatize, shame and embarrass” the men.

Rice didn’t back down. “I didn’t put them on the board,” she said at the time. “They put themselves on the board.”

Over the next few months, many of the cases unraveled because detectives didn’t tape the phone calls men made to negotiate the sex transaction, defense attorneys said. In the end, more than 90 men pleaded guilty to a noncriminal charge. Most of the others were either acquitted at trial or got the charges dismissed, according to court records.

Initiatives aimed at curbing the problem stopped, and the special law enforcement unit created to handle cases was disbanded.

Arrests of sex buyers plummeted.

State Division of Criminal Justice Services data shows that arrests of johns in Nassau dropped from 102 in 2013 to just eight the following year. The drop was even more dramatic in the following years: Just two johns were arrested in 2015 and none in 2016. There have been just one or two johns arrested each year since 2018 and none in 2022.

Rice declined an interview request. The Nassau Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for data or for an interview.

“What we saw from the Flush the Johns approach many years ago, the community had a big reaction to it,” said Debbie Lyons, associate executive director of The Safe Center. “I think that impacted any approaches similar to that.”

That’s unfortunate, Hanson said, because it was effective.

“If we start uncovering these stones, we might not like what we find,” he said.

Today, Krokowski is married and has a child. She said she feels fortunate, but she still wakes up with nightmares.

“My life is good now, but we have to remember it’s not like that for everybody,” she said.

CORRECTION: The name of Julina Guo was misspelled in a previous version of this story.

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