In the early hours of the morning — when it's still dark enough to be night — a few women can be seen practicing one of the oldest professions known to man outside of Thomas Greene Park on Third Avenue.
The Gowanus park lies between Douglass and Degraw streets, is currently under construction and is mostly surrounded by industrial buildings. This section of Third Avenue is dark, bleak and lonely most of the time. But these women offer a certain amount of company to men for the right price.
Prostitution in the area used to be worse in the 1990s — a police source said three to four women could be seen working the corner every night. However, area residents, local businesses and a community organization say that the problem has been creeping back in the past couple of months, with at least one woman on Third Avenue around 5 a.m. to 7 a.m.
“Since April it has been getting gradually worse,” Carlos Munoz, the manager of Brooklyn Boulders which is across the street from the park, said on Wednesday night.
Rachel Wile, a member of the community group Friends of Douglass/Greene Park, also said that she has seen prostitutes in front of the park as of late.
“I drive by the park early in the morning and me and many other people observed instances of prostitution or we’ve seen prostitutes calling out for johns on the sidewalk,” Wile said during a 78th precinct Community Council meeting this week. “I have seen the women calling out to men in cars and one of our members saw a woman soliciting a man on a bicycle.”
Although she said she has only seen prostitutes three times since April, she said some members of Friends of Douglass/Greene Park see it everyday.
The Commanding Officer of the 78th precinct, Captain Michael Ameri, is also aware of the problem.
This year so far, his precinct has arrested five “johns,” men who patronize prostitutes, in that area. In 2011, the 78th precinct arrested nine “johns.”
“That location has always been notorious for prostitution and needs to be consistently monitored,” Ameri said, explaining that his cops enforce the law and patrol the area between Third Avenue and Nevins Street regularly.
Gowanus has gone through big changes in the last decade. New businesses are popping up and more and more people are calling the industrial area home.
Even the park where the prostitutes pick up clients is getting a facelift. The section of the park along Third Avenue is currently under construction and is blocked off with a fence and black netting. The renovations will take about five to 10 years and eventually will give the community a brand new space to play, exercise and hang out.
But Wile and the president of Friends, Sue Wolfe, think that the construction is adding to the problem. Right now there is only one entrance, and exit, into the park and you cannot see into it from Third Avenue because of the black netting.
“There is limited visibility on the Third Avenue side, our concern is not just the safety for residents of the block, but also for the women engaging in prostitution,” Wile said, explaining that the first phase of construction in Thomas Greene Park will continue until fall 2013. “We are concerned about what is happening in that space.”
Wile is glad that the park is under construction, but she wants to make sure her neighborhood doesn’t get worse before it gets better.
“We have put in so much time in to getting this park rebuilt so it can be a safer, happier and healthier environment and Gowanus is up and coming,” Wile said. “We want to make sure that the crime isn’t growing as the park is going through construction.”
Wile wants to see more lighting along the park and said she went to the Community Council meeting to have “an open discussion” with the police and community to figure out what to do.
Captain Ameri, after getting more details about the time and place hookers can be found in the area, said that he will make sure the problem does not get worse.
“With the new information you’re giving us,” Ameri said to Wile, “we will alter our operations to try to fix the problem.”
But, Wile said she didn’t tell the police so the women would get thrown in jail. She does want the police to do their job, but she also wants the community to come together and figure out how to make the situation better too.
“This isn’t about demonizing women of our community, it’s about making sure everyone is healthy and safe,” Wile said, explaining she wishes something can be done to make the park not such a dark and obscure place while it’s being renovated. “I am concerned about the women going into the park—no one can see in and I don’t want anything bad to happen to them.”
At least one of the women on the corner has been sexually abused while she was working the streets.
According to Corinn Crawford, another employee of Brooklyn Boulders, her friend was taking out the trash one night last year and saw a prostitute getting raped on Douglass Street. After that, Crawford’s boss would not let any female employee walk out after work alone.
Wile said she welcomes other suggestions people may have to improve the quality of life for the area.
“I think it’s a safety issue for everybody involved, right? For the women engaging in the sex work and I think it’s a safety issue for people in the community,” Wile said. “In general, because so much work has been done by community groups and businesses to make this community safer and rebuild Gowanus we want to push as hard as we can and keep that momentum.”
What do you think can be done to help make the area surrounding Thomas Greene Park safer for everyone? Let us know in the comments section below!