The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail

She moved to Flushing, Queens, with dreams of success and citizenship. Now she was crumpled outside a massage parlor on 40th Road, her blood pooling on the pavement she had so often worked.

Comments: 142

  1. This block of 40th Road is where the LIRR Flushing Main Street station westbound platform entrance/exit is. Many people enter and exit the train here every day, probably oblivious to the sex trade going on right across the street. There are also a few very good, and very popular restaurants, and a produce market - the article seems to imply the block is run down, but it is vibrant and commercially thriving. My point is, this is happening right in front of us, every day, these women are as much a part of the community as the LIRR commuter, the produce vendor, the chef, etc. Instead of just arresting and releasing them, leaving them to the mercy of those who abuse them, we need to think about ways to protect and help them.

  2. Time to stop the men who profit at the expense of these women. Tax them, fine them, lock them up. Political parties who have been infiltrated by these 'businessmen' need to clean up their act! Police need to be asked - why an army of men are needed to bang down the door of a small Chinese woman but they cannot jail the criminal men running this empire of Flushing?

  3. Please, stop!

    This is not the solution. Cracking down on these people will not work. It will only create more misery. When you remove the "soft" criminals from the equation, the kind of criminals who right now appear to be running Flushing, the hard ones come in and the misery and plight of the downtrodden increases exponentially.

    We need a humane solution to this problem. We cannot afford to be vengeful and angry any longer, because look where that got us!

  4. A modern-day Les Miserables, and like with that book, my tears are streaming. Excellent but heart-breaking reporting.

  5. Thank you for this well-researched and deeply compassionate article. I cried all the way through.

  6. Trump was not elected on an "anti-immigration" platform. He was elected because a majority of American citizens are quite fed up with Illegal (I emphasize--illegal) immigration. The days of the wild west, and vast unpopulated space, are gone. We citizens not only have the right to decide how many people, and who, can come here, but we will (emphasize -- will) decide how many and who.

  7. one "overstays" by simply not leaving before the visa expires. you have no idea what her intent was, in fact given she married a man who was already here, perhaps she was in the process of legally converting to permanent residency. your assumptions do nothing to solve the predicament she and other women like her are in.

  8. Correction: More people voted for Hilary. Trump was not elected by a majority of Americans.

  9. Trump was not elected by a majority of those who voted. Your attempt to claim an electoral mandate for Trump's vile racism is undermined by your error in the actual vote tally.

    You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

  10. Thank you, NYT for this in-depth article on Song Yang. Her story and what her family is going through is heartbreaking. By the end of the article, I was in tears. We need more reporting like this. What is particularly frustrating to me was the ignorance of the beneficiaries of Song Yang's and the other women's occupancy in 40th road building.

    "In a brief conversation last month, the younger Tsai, 42, said that he did not know that a woman had fallen from his building last year, or that his building had long been a hub of illicit massage activity."

    I highly doubt that the didn't know what was going on. But if we were to take him at his word and he didn't know, now he does. And now that he does know what does he plan to do about it? I don't expect Tsai to tackle and solve this complex issue on his own. But surely as the son of a "revered" banker in Flushing what does he owe the community that he benefits from. How can he reach out to help now that he knows what is happening in the buildings he manages and the buildings his father owns?

    I encourage anywho who as the means to make a donation no matter how small to non-profits that can help women and men in these situations (Garden of Hope is a start). And just as important to make demands of your representatives to address these issues. And to keep the pressure on them, to make sure they don't forget these men and women.

  11. The story is very interesting, but the writing style makes it difficult for me to focus on the actual story, is this reality or is this fiction, the question keeps on popping in my head. I thought the story would benefit from a direct narrative, to do justice to the grittiness and reality of the situation

  12. Thank you for this extraordinarily well-researched and documented story. It is work like this that guarantees the future of journalism in a challenging time.

  13. Your writing is truly amazing. I live so far away from what you made come alive in your words and pictures. Very moving and incredibly eye-opening. I live in a different America than Song Yang did. My heart goes out to her brother and mother. I hope there are butterflies where she has gone after this life...

    If you speak with the brother in the future, tell him the part of America and the Americans he hasn't met or seen mourn the loss of his sister. Her life, and death, has meaning and purpose now in my life.

  14. Thank you for this piece. As a resident of Flushing, I could visualize the street, vendors, and restaurants, (even without the images provided) and feel the smell of the place portrayed in the article.
    Some commented that the style of writing seemed too literary(?) for a report article. However, I think it well suits what is portrayed in this story and the place, which might seem too strange for those who are unfamiliar to Flushing, NY. Journalist's articles does not always have to be like a research-writing. Especially, in the age of confusing discourses on true and fake news, appeals to genuine emotion, empathy, and autobiographic remarks can constitute a viable way of doing journalism, I think.
    In addition, the story makes me reflect on the meaning of community, diasporic existence, and about happiness. I hope there are series of conversations following this article.

  15. Dan Barry’s gifted storytelling is on full display in this heartbreaking tale. Congratulations to Jeffrey Singer, too, as well as to photographer/videographer Todd Heisler. Great feature, but sad.

  16. Second NYT article I've read after signing up using my university email address. I was thoroughly invested in this story. It was interesting, disheartening and above all it was informative. The despair made me feel hopeless in the sea of raging issues of social unrest and criminal justice today. Empathizing in the environment of Flushing Queens I can't begin to imagine how a family member would have felt looking for answers to a sudden death. This was an emotionally invoking piece but it didn't overpower the facts of the issue at hand and the lack of a viable system to produce a different narrative of reality for many who find themselves entrapped in its cycle.

  17. Thank you for this heartbreaking reminder that behind every statistic, within every court docket, live beautiful and vulnerable human beings who are beloved children, siblings, aunties and friends, even when life has taken them across oceans and continents and up dingy stairwells into worlds swirling with pain, and still...hope and dreams...I want to imagine Song Yang smiling, running along a riverbank, butterfly on her shoulder.

  18. Excellent reporting and writing and photos. Thank you.

  19. Thank you for this sad and beautiful story. I grew up a few miles from Flushing, but such stories occur many places in the US in different forms. The suffering could be ended tomorrow if legislators would legalize prostitution and license state regulated brothels as is done in Switzerland, Germany, Australia and other countries. Few women (or men) would choose prostitution as a profession, but people need to eat, and sex is a service that has been in demand for many thousands of years. That demand will not go away. Preventing poor women from making money this way does not help anyone, nor does the accompanying harassment by police. Prostitutes should be provided with decent working conditions, a safe environment, and medical care. The state also gets a tax benefit. Society rewards women who sell themselves to wealthy men, but poor women are stigmatized for living on small amounts of cash they get from a dangerous activity. It is time for the US to abandon this historical Puritanism and do what is right for poor women: legalize and regulate prostitution as many countries around the world have already done.

  20. Actually, legal brothels do not stop trafficking; the brothel owners are merely renting out a space--they deliberately do NOT ask a woman if she is there of her own free will. Legalization brings more demand, which increases profits for pimps and brothel owners; thereby increasing trafficking and exploitation, such as the 50 dollars for "everything" offers in a legal brothel, as opposed to each woman being able to agree to a particular sex act and charge more for it depending on risk. A much better method is the Nordic Model, where sex is legal to sell but illegal to buy.

  21. The lady who this article is about, Song Yang, was not trafficked.

  22. This story captivated me. It's incredibly well written and so heartbreaking to read. Thank you for sharing Song Yang's story.

  23. I live in Queens and this is a HUGE problem throughout the borough. There's one of these places right across from the Blink in Jackson Heights and I've called the pollice--not because I'm against sex workers, but because I worry that these women may not working there voluntarily. (Now I'm not so sure that was a smart decision.) Nothing happens. I'm sure the police take their cut and go. We need to legalize prostitution and help these women.

  24. Actually, complete legalization has been shown to simply increase demand and therefore leads to more exploitation by brothel owners and pimps, as there is more money to be made. Legalize selling of sex, but criminalize buying it

  25. I'm fine with that. I've read all kinds of conflicting studies, but that solution sounds like a good one.

  26. And so,..The holier than thou, and the vice squad, claim another.

  27. I want a story about the customers at these massage parlors please. That would be more interesting. Also, what happened to her husband?

  28. to Tammy: This is a great comment. Until the Times gets around to publishing such an article, I'd like to recommend the graphic memoir, "Paying for It" by Chester Brown (available on Amazon). I think Brown's experience is typical of at least some customers. Relationships can be difficult, and sex is a biological need. Men who, for a variety of reasons, don't want to be involved in a relationship (at least for some period of time), often still have a need for sex. These men are not, in general, predators. They simply want consensual sex with women with women who accept money for this service. Yes, there are certainly some bad people going to prostitutes, but I think Brown is more the rule. On the beaches of Bali, you will see Western women enjoying Bali Cowboys in exchange for 'gifts'. Many relationships have 'costs', some people prefer to pay cash. But do have a look at the book, it's excellent and there's a very informative appendix.

  29. Best article in YEARS!!!

  30. Thank you for writing this.

  31. The best way to combat exploitation like this is the Nordic Model: make it illegal to BUY sex, but legal to sell it. If it is completely legal, trafficking and exploitation increases; if it is completely illegal, prostitutes instead of buyers and pimps are the ones arrested.

  32. Also, most of us prefer the term sex worker and not prostitute.

  33. This article is a good argument for legalizing prostitution, bringing it into the light, regulating and taxing it, and thus protecting the exploitation of workers and others through labor laws and unions.

    The police and society have more important things to be doing, rather than re-victimizing sex workers.

    It reminds me of a local Detroit television station that features going after Detroit's "Most Wanted" via the U.S. Marshal's office. Each week they feature a most wanted criminal. In all the months and months of these news broadcasts not one featured criminal was white. Every one of them was black. Yet, wealthy white folks can rip off local, state and the federal government for millions of dollars - but are never featured as a "Most Wanted."

  34. This is not how legalization should work. I have explained this a million times already, but here I go again:

    1. Make prostitution legal.
    2. Make vice cops (glorified) pimps.
    3. Make every prostitute check in with the vice cops and register, for free, as a sex worker. This way the vice cops, or the new pimps, can watch over the prostitutes to make sure that they are treated well, and if they do not treat them well, the prostitutes should be able to file an abuse complaint with the Internal Affairs.
    4. Provide free medical insurance and mandatory health screenings to all sex workers.
    5. Provide free mental health counseling and start programs intended to help prostitutes leave their profession, if they want to.
    6. Make sex work tax-free, as long as you work under the auspices of the vice cops. This is the best way to ensure that the prostitutes will work with the cops and not with some pimp.

    Under this system, prostitutes will be allowed to work as individual sex workers, who will be able to call the vice cops if anything goes wrong. This way, they will have the freedom to choose the clients that they want and to say no, when there is something they do not want to do. This should empower these women and ease the trauma and fear of this line of work.

  35. Yeah that's exactly what I want. A cop to be my pimp and "watch over me." Get a grip dude. The system you're proposing would be even worse than the one we have now and that's saying a lot. I guarantee you no sex worker wants a cop as their boss. Can you imagine how much exploitation there would be in that scenario?

  36. Legalizing prostitution would only allow more people, mostly women, to be victimized. Strict law enforcement against their exploiters and social disapproval of selling sex could help to save many from this horrible degrading life.

  37. Incredible and captivating story; I cried all the way through. Thank you for this work.

  38. You have certainly introduced me to a world that is foreign to me. As i sit here in my cedar shake house, a lake in my back yard, now featuring a white crane bird that seems to have adopted this paradise as its own, this crowded, sex filled merry ground has seemingly moved in across the street. The details of the apartments, the lives of the women,the families , both fascinate and repel me. Although I am not religious, I must say God bless them all. And thank you Times for your detailed, compassionate work.

  39. Perhaps it's time for the nyts to do some articles about how the Chinese are gaming the asylum system? Law firms are set up to concoct entire history's to get people and their relatives into the u.s. and keep them here. In the meantime people in the shadows are exploited and the system is abused. The u.s. like the rest of the planet is in a permanent over supply of people and labor. It's time to make hard choices as to what we want the country to look like in the future and who the immigration system should be serving. The days of an empty continent and need for easily exploited, unskilled labor is long past.

  40. You want to cut down on these sorts of things? Go after the pimps and johns, not the women stuck with little to no economic, safe, or legal recourse.

    Provide women with meaningful opportunities for exiting, involving safe housing and gainful employment training. Other than that: Leave the women alone.

  41. No, no. No. No!

    This is wrong. Very wrong. Going after pimps and Johns is a bad idea. Just think about how going after drug users and drug dealers worked out. That whole thing ended as a raging dumpster fire filling America to the brim with its toxic fumes.

    There is a far more gentle and workable solution to all of this: Build rehabilitation centers in nice neighborhoods. I just recently got me a new, and very, very beautiful condo on Alki Beach in Seattle, Washington. It is located in a futuristic four-story building with a huge balcony directly overlooking Elliott Bay with downtown Seattle in the background. I bought it, because I want to raise my second child in a nice place and in a country where there are no such things as what is described in this article, but I am getting off point, because for some reason beyond me I can't stop boasting about buying this new condo of mine (it's so, so nice that it's almost mind-boggling. I am so happy that my kid will grow up in a place like this).

    But back to the point, let's build beautiful emergency/rehabilitation housing compounds for women in dire straits in nice neighborhoods, like the one where I am going to be living soon. We can give them free food and shelter and help them integrate and thrive in our high-tech society by providing free medical training or college courses in professions where there is a severe labor shortage. We need to share our bounty and we can do this through paying slightly higher taxes.

  42. Fantastic Piece. Wow! Thank you. I hope this piece wins some awards.

  43. Thank you.

  44. This story brings back memories of one of my father's old friends who was constantly complaining about being harassed by the cops. The police were on his case because some of his female tenants in Brooklyn in the early 2000s were arrested for prostitution on a fairly regular basis. He was getting complaints about this from the local residents almost daily. Eventually, he caved and stopped leasing apartments and space to suspect individuals.

    He always said that America's puritan streak trapped fallen women in an ever-escalating downward spiral, instead of helping them, which is what he was doing by leasing apartments and "office" space in safe neighbors at reasonable rates to women of the night. He let them do their thing, as he put it. And more often than not, he lost money on these arrangements because of law enforcement harassment.

  45. The storytelling and integration of the visual material really took this to the next level. It's not often I can be pulled into long form pieces but all who worked on this seemed to do justice to the story, although I suppose only this woman's family could make that claim. Thank you for this piece.

  46. When paralleled with drugs, the current system of prosecution of prostitution makes no sense.

    When dealing with drug-related cases, would it make sense to simply confiscate the drugs and leave the dealers and the customers? Would that solve the issue?

    Not to be disparaging of women who work in prostitution by comparing them to illegal substances, but I feel the analogy makes sense in order to understand the flaw in logic here.

  47. A very sad heartbreaking story. "The American Dream" in a perverse but all too common scenario. Unfortunately the people responsible for this walk away free and get to do this over and over again to other women. No one walks away from this clean - The johns, pimps, building owners and even the police have blame here.

  48. This is a very sad story, and a well-written one. But one part of it does not quite compute.

    There are jobs available in many places in China, and in Song Yang's age range, there are more men than women. Why would she not return to China to live if she were unhappy and having a hard time making ends meet, rather than prostitute herself in Queens? Did she just become too depressed too quickly, or is there some other demographic factor at work?

  49. She was married to an American and even if it was a sham marriage, she followed him here and probably just wanted to stay here. At her age in China, she is considered too old to marry, and the gender difference is small in her age range. And what would she do, with no education? Work for almost nothing in a factory, probably far from her home in Liaoning, an economically depressed area?

  50. I've read that the men do outnumber the women in China, but many of the men are very poor and can't afford to get by, let alone marry. From what I understand, if you rule out the destitute, there isn't really a woman shortage.

  51. She came to the US with her much-older husband. Perhaps he made the original decision and the decision to stay. Chances are, she wasn't free to do whatever she wanted.

    It is odd that his involvement was not explored in this story.

  52. Such a well written and researched story. The pain you describe seems unfathomable yet exists every day. Thank you for shining a light on Song Yang. May she rest in peace.

  53. Congratulations to all the journalists that helped in writing this very sad story of a woman just trying to make a better life for herself and her family, that tragically ends in her death. Unfortunately there will always be people looking to take advantage of vulnerable women like Song Yang.

  54. What a sad and tragic ending of a life . These women are treated like flotsam and jetsam . They come here with dreams of a better life which never materializes and ends in degradation . A deeply touching story , Song Yang 's life memorialized ; reading it I cannot help but think of all those other women and girls who arrive here either on their own or trafficked , to the glaring brutality of selling their bodies to help their families . Thank you for bringing Song Yang's story and giving it a humanity she so well deserved ; we often forget how difficult life can be for others .

  55. Legalize. Regulate. Tax. It is simply the only solution that will work.

  56. No. Sex workers want decriminalization, not legalization. There's a difference. Look it up.

  57. This story is the 2nd one in the Times this week featuring exploited immigrants (the other was about the overworked caregiver at a Chinese post-birth facility who stabbed kids and killed herself). In both instances, the women were being exploited by illegal businesses. Until these law-breaking bosses are shut down, these stories will keep repeating indefinitely.

    I identify as liberal but we need to close the loopholes in US immigration laws. Applicants immigrating legally are scrutinized to see if they can either support themselves or have well-off family that will support them to ensure they don’t become a burden to the US and can afford to live here. This very important step is skipped by illegal immigrants (who would likely not meet this criteria anyway). Poor illegal immigrants are vulnerable to exploitation because they are desperate to take on ANY job in order to survive, thus ending up employed by shady employers since legitimate employers who pay minimum wage, etc. look for proof of authorization to work in the US. Thus, many illegal immigrants are stuck working for employers that pay and treat them poorly and who break the law with impunity since their employees are unlikely to seek out/cooperate with authorities because of their illegal status. Restricting illegal immigration altogether is a way of protecting illegal immigrants from the hardships and brutality that is often the way of life for many exploited illegal immigrants in this country.

  58. EM , The belief bandied about by conservatives that they become a burden to the U.S. is a false premise , many of them work and agreed they are taken advantage by employers because of their immigration status , I disagree that restricting immigration is the solution . Perhaps a lower quota , and hefty fines to those that employ them . BTW Song might have been here illegally albeit working as a sex worker but still working . Most of them come from villages and lack education so they do the jobs no one else wants . Until the bane of poverty is eradicated worldwide we and other western countries will always be a beacon to the poor seeking a better life without starvation , but that is only a utopian dream , as long as greed dwells in the human heart . As far as affording to live here , today's paper also had an article about the unaffordability of living in L.A. , it's hard enough for citizens , and especially in your area . Blackstone has become an enormous landlord driving up rents there . Capitalism .

  59. Yes many illegal immigrants work hard to survive without govt handouts but to say they are not a community burden is misleading. Yes they pay sales tax, gas tax etc. for things/ services they purchase but they often dont pay income taxes because they don’t have valid SS numbers and are paid in cash. They tend to flee auto accidents to avoid police, leaving others to pay for damages they caused out of pocket. They also tend to depress wages of some blue collar Americans/US residents—handymen, cleaning ladies, gardeners and babysitters will tell you how they have to compete with illegal immigrants willing to work the same jobs for less money. We should help illegal immigrants already here but let’s not pretend that they are not costing our society anything.

    Illegal immigration needs to be stopped. If the compassionate option is to open additional avenues for legal immigration, then so be it. However, their illegal status is what allows people to take advantage of them and encourage them to live on the margins of society.

    Controlling immigration into the US is in all of our interest, not just conservatives. The US does not have unlimited resources--housing is a growing problem nationwide and jobs that pay living wages, health benefits etc. are scarce The hard truth is there is not room here for everyone who wants to come here and disregarding this problem is risky and irresponsible—like running up credit card debt without regard to how to pay for it.

  60. Would it help if prostitution were legalized? Would these women then be able to seek protection from their 'bosses'? Would legalization reduce exploitation? Allow for unionization?

    Or would legalization simply undermine the 'street value' of their services by making the 'profession' more attractive?

    I don't know, but I think the questions are worth asking.

    The real problem is the lack of opportunity. Because opportunities don't exist in their home countries, they come here from Latin America, China, SE Asia, Russia, etc. seeking opportunities that don't exist here either. Once here, they often feel trapped.

    Better border enforcement (easier said than done) might help. But we also need stricter penalties for pimping--which is really just another word for enslavement.

  61. This is excellent journalism and it's also really depressing. There are all sorts of types of cruelty, including indifference. We all lead our lives and avoid the seedy underbelly. May we all do better.

  62. Stories like this make The New York Times more than a "news" paper. The excellent writing and photography created a vivid depiction of this aspect of our society that most of us rarely consider. The ordeal of Song Yang and her family (and, presumably, many others like them) will haunt me for a long time.

  63. Why not just make prostitution legal? No underground industry, no shady deals, no fear from the police. Women will report crimes against them and not have to worry about being locked up in prison. Establish legitimate brothels for this kind of activity.

  64. TEN officers needed to sting ONE woman? For doing something that doesn't get someone illegally high, or rob them of money... waste of city money, and now a waste of a woman's life.

  65. Sorry, but this is an utterly trite and shallow take. Very drama! But I see little effort to dissect the simple, standard narrative. It cites only sources from the so-called "rescue industry" whose perspective it absorbs unquestioningly. Almost every sentence drips with judgement about people the authors do not know or understand. It asks none of the important questions. I have to ask: if they are victims, why are people like Song abused, imprisoned, hounded to death--or even murdered--by law enforcement, and those who really have no help to give? This story has been covered with much greater nuance elsewhere. Come on New York Times! Do better!

  66. Seriously?

  67. Yes. Dead serious. This is pap for simple minds.

  68. I am sorry, but it is you who clearly do not understand what you are talking about. The Times is fair to both sides here. Both the cops and the women do what they "have to" do. But neither of them seems to be questioning the situations they are in. Song could have gone back to China and the police could start questioning how this sort of behavior traumatizes the victims of illicit sex work even further. You need to keep following orders, I get that, but you also need to understand what this does to other people, and you need to make the people giving out the orders aware of the harm that results from them. You need to follow but also question the narrative so that you won't go too far, so that you won't let them make you go too far. Never give your blind loyalty to anyone. I don't. But then again, it is hard to question the way things are for people in law enforcement (and I guess that you are somehow, in some way involved in that line of work). I have noticed it myself on many occasions. Those people do what they are told, but me, I do what I think is right (for me, at least some of the time).

  69. Tragic and heartbreaking. Song Yang came to America for better life, just like all immigrants, and was exploited and abused by her own countrymen and the police. I don't understand the point of arresting women like Song Yang. If the legal system was viewing women in her situation as sex traffic victims, why was Yang arrested on multiple occasions. This article has truly made me change my perspective on the quiet and desparate plight of women like Song Yang, of which I had been callously clueless. I wish peace and hope for her brother and mother.

  70. It is disgusting that the men who profit from theses women's daily misery live reputable, community-leader lives themselves.

  71. Go take a look. Many matrons run this business, many of them former workers themselves. And they are just as ruthless or worse.

  72. Well, that's the way of the world.

    And besides, these men did not put those poor women into the specific circumstances that forced them to engage in sex work in the first place. So, please, do not make it like they are heartless pig monsters who only
    live to bathe fallen women in misery very day. These people help their communities the best they can. I can see that, but why can't you? Why are you so angry at men?

  73. Well, that's the way of the world.

    And besides, these men did not put those poor women into the specific circumstances that forced them to engage in sex work in the first place. So, please, do not make it like they are heartless pig monsters who only live to bathe fallen women in misery every day. These people help their communities the best they can. I can see that, but why can't you? Why are you so angry at men?

  74. Rather than sympathy, “What was she even doing in our country?” would be the first thing out of the mouths of Chinese people if the roles were reversed. Chinese author Eric Liu of Harvard says there have been millions and millions of Chinese Americans but zero American Chinese. Not 1. He says the few Americans who were granted Chinese citizenship were already chinese! Both parents born in PRC. Both the right kind of Chinese (Han Chinese). Thus, the Chinese tariff is not limited to foreign goods. And none of the sympathy for this girl now voiced by Americans would be heard in China if an American met the same fate in China.

  75. Komrade Stas, I am Chinese and have lived and worked 15 years in PRC, ROC, SK, Japan. If you are so phenomenally wealthy you are investing in a country where you a foreigner, do not speak the language, and likely have no relatives, and have been there but a few months your view is an outlier to an outlier. Did note where I live? Flushing, which is ChinaTown and where the story takes place. If you want to reply in Chinese, please do so.

  76. Come to think of it, the only time I was treated very poorly in America was when I first came to study here and I did not know any English. But as soon as my English was up to scratch I was treated about as well as all the other students. I experienced discrimination, because I did not know any English at an elite university, which made quite a few people somewhat peeved.

  77. How do you get into an elite university without knowing any English? Don't you have to take an English proficiency exam if you're a foreigner? How did you even write the admissions essay?

  78. An outstandingly well written and moving article. And a tragic, unnecessary story that could have gone very differently had we not kept on being obsessed with prosecuting victimless "crimes" like prostitution that should really be legal, taxable business transactions.

  79. I am grateful for the beautiful and descriptive writing in this piece that illuminates the tragedy of this woman's life and death and the broken lives and system that surrounded her. It is a tiny phoenix from the ashes.
    My heart breaks.
    Journalism at its finest.

  80. While I too was impressed by the storytelling...but also wondered - what are the ethics in such narrations? Making public all names, addresses and inside that ok? Especially in some sensitive issues, I thought there were strict rules against disclosure of names etc - there were disclaimers ("All names/addresses have been kept secret in the interest of privacy etc etc...)
    But the Times team seems to have been pretty wanton about it.
    I see the imperative perhaps - "restoring" the name and dignity to Jane Doe Ponytail - so that she does not become part of a nameless, faceless statistic. She too had a story and let us uncover it in a humanizing tale...but still, something does not sit right and feel transgressive. I don't know exactly what...

  81. There is a process of consent/disclosure that they routinely abide by. I assume that holds true here

  82. I understand your hesitation. All I can say is that if I died this way, I'd want my death to be "used" to help other women in the same situation. Of course, we can't know how she feels.

  83. A heart wrenching, beautifully written story. RIP Song Yang. Sad testimony to the horrors immigrants face amidst economic hardship. The real sadness of this story lies in the fact that this young woman's death was completely preventable. This shouldn't be happening in New York 2018.

  84. Have the brother and mother returned to China?

  85. Let these people stay. I would let them stay...

  86. So incredibly sad. This woman never got and never will get the justice she deserved. Too bad that even her suicide/death was not enough for this too happen. Perhaps someone can make a movie out of her life? If only more people knew about these seedy businesses in Flushing.

  87. No surprise that an article written entirely by men deploys the male gaze to fragment and fool around with Sisi's body. Asking the audience to imagine her body floating before it hits the ground is pathetically sentimental and arguably misogynistic. Her blood becomes their ink. Now I wonder if we would have had less of a mystery-thriller and more of a eulogy had a feminist been included in writing this piece.

  88. I befriended a young woman from China who was working in a Chinese restaurant as her day job to pay off her smuggling 'debt'. At night she worked in a 'massage' parlor near Boston. She told me of her plan to flee to France asap. I never saw her again and wondered where she went or ended up.
    I can not look at this male restaurant manager the same way, who is constantly barking at the wait staff in Chinese. They move like the walking dead. I am only guessing some of the nail salon workers are also paying off debts as are the cooks in these Chinese restaurants. It's a huge racket in the Bay State and other nearby cities. Must be cracked down upon. Our country is being invaded by illegal Chinese doing some awful slave like work in order to line the pockets of their 'importers'. All are on visitor visas.

  89. You should tip off someone at the local paper. Unfortunately, I don't think the police care at all. It's just women being forced to do things against their will, right? Par for the course in modern America.

  90. Modern America cares! If it did not I would never choose this country to raise my second kid (this time I want to do it right). Of course, I am going to be raising my yet-to-be-born daughter in a very nice neighborhood in Alki Beach, Seattle (I don't know why I can't stop bragging about this. This is pathological). With my resources, I could have chosen any country on Earth, but I chose America, because I want my kid to have the best childhood possible. Because I want my kid to meet all kinds of people, I want her to be good unconditionally. That is all I want. I want to raise her to be a good person. That's all you can really do as a parent.

  91. I actually contacted a local chapter of a human rights group who specialized in human trafficking. The person I spoke to online from the organization said NOT to get in touch with the local police because it may put her life in jeopardy or great danger.
    It's an awful catch-22 as to what to do. I did not pursue it further. She was gone already. Hard to prove too.
    Foreign language barriers are in favor of the traffickers.
    They will claim they can't speak English or understand.
    I am wary to give my business to these people anymore.

  92. This was a beautifully written piece on the tragic reality of low-level "crimes" disproportionately affecting the vulnerable. The parallels are grand to similar narratives. Black men are disproportionately affected by "possession of cannabis" offenses, locked in jail, then sabotaged by bail bond systems further victimizing them because of indigence, and forcing many to take pleas on what may very well be unlawful arrests. DECRIMINALIZATION is the answer. We must grow as a nation. I cannot lead the rest of my day without thinking about her and what hell her family has lived and will continue to experience.

  93. The main purpose of immigration is to benefit all the citizens of the United States - not to benefit the immigrants or to benefit the globalist plutocrats trying to suppress wages. Immigrants involved with crime need to be deported immediately.

  94. We can start by deporting our purported President who, as the NYT recently pointed out, has cheated the federal, state, and local governments of hundreds of millions of tax dollars.

    Let's start at the top, to send a clear message that no one is above the law.

  95. This is top-notch reporting, and a wonderful use of current media. I am very impressed by the embedding of pictures into the text of the story. I have lived in Flushing over thirty five years, and know downtown fairly well. Not as well as I thought, I realize after reading this story. Nonetheless, some of the photos are great; I especially like the one looking down at 40th Road from across Main Street.
    I will leave the moralizing to others, unnecessary as it might be. Thanks for a great story; wonderful journalism.

  96. What a long, winding tragic tale with so many unanswered questions. Why was Song Yang still without a green card three years after entering the US as a spouse of a citizen? Why are her mother and brother still here almost a year later? How effective are these alternative courts in getting women like Song Yang out of prostitution, especially if they have no legal status allowing them to work in safer jobs that pay a living wage?

  97. Sounds like there needs to be a PR campaign overseas, explaining to people with no money and no skills, that America is not the answer.

  98. Thank you, New York Times, DAN BARRY, JEFFREY SINGER, and TODD HEISLER for shining a light where it was needed.

    Prosecute the pimps and extorters and sex trafficking king pins.

    Leave the women alone.

  99. YES!!! That's the Nordic Model. We also need to prosecute sex buyers (who often kill the women whose bodies they rent) so that the balance of power in the transaction shifts in the prostituted woman's favor. Women who are prostituted under the Nordic Model are MUCH less likely to be murdered than those who work in countries like Germany or New Zealand, where sex buying is legal. Check out the survivor run

  100. Thank you to all who made this piece possible, and thank you for publishing it. I notice that the two writers and the photographer are men. Good. We men must carry the responsibility for showing (and changing) what we men have made so many women go through.

  101. I think it is utterly shameful that in this profession, it's the victims that are always arrested and not the men who control them or the men who buy their services. How can you punish someone who is already being punished, both physically and mentally by a pimp, trafficker, or the men who buy their services. It's a no win for them at every turn. It makes no sense. Arrest pimps, arrest johns. Leave this women who are victims alone. I hope the vision of that poor girl landing in front of that cop stays with him forever.

  102. We need the Nordic Model in this country, which decriminalizes women like Sisi, but cracks down hard on pimps and abusive sex buyers. The Nordic Model also provides Exit Services for those who choose to get out of the murderous Sex Trade (women in the sex trade are 18 times more likely to be murdered than others of the same race and class - most of these murders are committed by sex buyers and pimps). Check out the survivor run site

  103. The fat cat "respectable" men are profiting off this tragedy. There should be legislation to FINE building owners for illegal activity, and criminalize them after multiple arrests occur from their property.

  104. THANK YOU NYT for opening my eyes to this tragedy. I grew up in the LES and my personal experience with Flushing was limited to the eateries and food stalls and a few trips from the LIRR station to LI. I was oblivious to the massage parlor/prostitution rings in the area!
    Thank you for your thorough research into her background and family in China. I was really hoping for her family to be able to get her justice in the end of the article.
    You are correct in pointing out our biased system targets the easy, low-hanging fruit as opposed to the true perpetrators - building and restaurant owners, former bankers and big bosses. It is laughable to hear that the restaurant owner (subletter) could plead ignorance to who his renters are.

  105. This was a beautifully written piece on the tragic reality of low-level "crimes" disproportionately affecting the vulnerable. The parallels are grand to similar narratives. Black men are disproportionately affected by "possession of cannabis" offenses, locked in jail, then sabotaged by bail bond systems further victimizing them because of indigence, and forcing many to take pleas on what may very well be unlawful arrests. DECRIMINALIZATION is the answer. We must grow as a nation. I cannot lead the rest of my day without thinking about her and what hell her family has lived and will continue to experience.

  106. We must decriminalize Sisi NOT the men who brutally exploit her. Please read up on the Nordic Model, which has been adopted by Iceland, Norway, Sweden, France, and Canada. Pimps and sex buyers must be held accountable for their abuse, otherwise they become emboldened to harm the women they exploit (decriminalizing pimps also increases sex trafficking). Most women in the sex trade are like Sisi: they are desperate to escape this brutality, but have no options. "Sex work" is not a choice in most cases, but a LACK of choices. We must make a distinction between the sex buyers and pimps (criminals) and the women they use (victims of exploitation). When you promote full decriminalization you lump Sisi in with her "boss". That is a very cruel thing to do to, and completely lacking in empathy for Sisi. She is not a criminal; the men who used and exploited her are.

  107. That's the truth, Nahid. Well said. I, too, have been haunted by this story all day. I know it will fade (like everything does, unfortunately), but thank you to the NYT for this beautifully sad and thorough journalism that sheds light on this darkness. The system needs to change. Meanwhile wishing the best for those ladies trying to survive, any way they can...

  108. At the end, we are the same as Saudi Arabia, or Queta in Pakistan, or Yemen, or Syria or Afghanistan.

    The vice police here gets the job that the virtue and culture does over there, done by killing a woman.

    The city is rendered better now that she is no longer doing her trade, we have salvaged Queens from vice.

    Except of course we did not.

    The ladies on 40th will be concerned for a moment, not for her, but that the same raids will happen to them and be a problem to their business. The landlord will mourn the passing of his income. And the stressed out men that got a moment of happiness will miss her the most.

    We have failed SiSi, as we have failed countless others, forced into this illegal work because of outdated morality tales.

    The solution is simple. Legalize their trade.

    Yes, make it legal. Make it so they are protected at work, have rights, have recourse. Their trade will never ever die, so why block it. If it’s legal they have all the protections workers have.

    Mr Mayor, let’s not fail another SiSi. Legalize this trade, it will surely save many more from SiSi’s fate.

  109. "the stressed out men that got a moment of happiness will miss her the most." Seriously? You mean the poor "stressed out" men who bought their way into the body of desperate impoverished woman? Those men? How about this instead: how about we decriminalize Sisi - not her boss or the men who use their economic power to force their way into her body - and use the money paid in fines by the poor "stressed out men" to offer her Exit Services? That's what they are doing in Sweden, Iceland, Norway, France, and Canada. Women will NEVER be viewed as full human beings while we support men's "right" to buy their way into our bodies. Sexual consent can NEVER be bought; only sexual submission can be bought. If you are what passes for a "progressive" it's no wonder we're being ruled by sex offenders.

  110. Wow seriously? Only women in those countries 1) can't leave their country without a male's permission, 2) have to wear a hijab or face arrest, 3) are routinely denied access to education. But sure, women here are treated the same as they are there.

    While I agree it's a horrible waste of police resources to send so many officers to arrest a prostitute, they didn't kill her -- she jumped off the balcony. Her choice. Even after multiple arrests, prostitution was her choice. Staying in the US when she could've gone back to China -- also her choice. We can have sympathy for the woman and mourn her death, but please don't equate the rights of women in the US to the the rights of women in Afghanistan if you want anyone to take you seriously.

  111. They should have arrested Sisi's "boss" and the sex buyers who exploit her. Sisi should have been offered Exit Services, paid for by the fines imposed against the middle class men who buy their way into the bodies of poor women of color like Sisi. Check out

  112. Massage prostitutes don’t choose this line of work, they do it to survive. By being a customer, a man is exploiting women, often very young ones. It makes me sick. Especially when many of these men are fathers with daughters. Men think that their behavior isn’t hurting anyone, or they don’t care about women enough to respect them as equals. Of course, you guys aren’t thinking with your brains … it’s sad, it’s disgusting and for this woman, it was deadly.

  113. We need the Nordic Model in this country, which decriminalizes women like Sisi while offering them Exit Services (paid for with the fines levied against the sex buyers who prey upon these vulnerable women). Please check out

  114. Song Yang made bad choices, such as opting for prostitution when she had other options. She parted company with her husband who moved to California for better weather yet there is nothing in the story that suggests that her husband was abusive and she had to leave him, and there is nothing in the story that suggests she was coerced into prostitution. Really, this could be a story about anyone, American or Chinese, for whom life doesn't work out the way the person had hoped it would.

    I am curious about her brother and mother; they came for the funeral but never returned to China.

  115. No one would want become a prostitute by choice. Its a matter a desperation and no choice that they come to this profession.

  116. No one "opts" for prostitution. You read this brilliantly written story and your key takeaway is that you are "curious about her brother and mother"?! You sad, sad man...

  117. As others commented, this article was well-researched and written and very sad.

    Our country (and immigration into the US) will never be the same following September 11. And, Trump is anti-immigration, except for those that come from countries he approves of -- and he has a small list. With that in mind, I wonder if people that come to this country don't realize the US is no longer a safe haven for all and that they may be better off going to countries where they would be welcomed and have a chance to start a new life.

  118. What was it that the vice cops were going to accomplish by arresting one slight, humiliated, desperate woman? What horrible danger did she present?

  119. We need the Nordic Model in this country, which would decriminalize women like Sisi, but would criminalize pimps like her "boss" while also providing Sisi with Exit Services. See:

  120. Sisi's brother it right: the system killed his sister. I'm not suggesting that the police held a gun to her head and said jump. But they harassed her and stalked her while failing to protect her or offer meaningful alternatives. They were aided and abetted by the immigration system, the so-called special court and the community "leaders".

    While there is no perfect solution to any vice, it is time for this country to get out of the 19th Century when it comes to sex work. We need an approach like Germany and Switzerland use where it is completely legal to sell your body but pimping, trafficking and otherwise exploiting other people's bodies is illegal. Sex workers not only get health checkups (and of course free medical care) but periodic visits from government social workers who are empowered to act on reports of exploitation or abuse.

    Will some souls still slip through the cracks? Of course, but when you consider SiSi's story and the recent articles about the retired Vice Detective hiring cops as muscle, you know that the law enforcement approach to prostitution is a failure.

  121. You are dead wrong about Germany. I invite you to work in a legal German brothel for month (I'm sure some male customers would enjoy you) and then report back to us about how much "better" it is than what Sisi suffered through. It's you who are in the 19th century. The 21st century is embracing the Nordic Model, which has been adopted by Sweden, Norway, France, Canada, and Ireland. Under the Nordic Model, Sisi would not be prosecuted, but her cruel exploitive "boss" would be. Not only would she not be prosecuted, but the fines collected from her "boss" and her "customers" would be used to fund Exit Services, which is what 90% of women in the sex trade (mostly poor women of color) truly want and need. Please stop being a Pimp Apologist. Promote Exit Services for women like Sisi. These women are as human as you are, and as are traumatized by renting out their bodily orifices as you would be.

  122. Sex, intimacy, between people is not a commodity to be bought and sold. Doing so is degrading to everyone involved.

  123. A truly "epic tragedy". Thank you Dan Barry and Jeffrey E. Singer for this truly touching piece, I could not stop reading until I got to the end. I am very saddened by what poor Song Yang went through. She had been through hell and in a sense it makes me feel "good" now that she is in peace in heaven. A sad sad reminder of the complicated and cruel realities that many many less fortunate people have to face everyday in their life. This tragedy also reinforces a belief that I have long held: if you are an illegal resident in a country, no matter how good you feel that country is, it is not for you.

  124. Fabulous piece of journalism. Thank you for bearing witness.

  125. I remember going shopping in Flushing, before it turned Asian. The Gertz on Roosevelt, Gloria's Pizza on Main. Sometimes a movie at the RKO Keith's on Northern or the UA on Main. Going home we'd board the Q27 on 39th Avenue, turning left on Prince, another left on Grove, now called 40th Road, passing the basketball courts that are still there.
    Alot has changed in the past 50 years, some for the better, some not so much.
    I think one thing that will never change is person's dream, a dream of a better life for themselves and for their children.
    Unfortunatly, for some, their dreams won't come true.

  126. Oh my word! Just outstanding writing, superlative. Thank you.

  127. Thank you, Mr. Barry and Mr. Singer, for such an exquisitely written story about that which is too heavy for the heart to bear.

  128. Except for complimenting Mr Barry and Mr Singer for a well written and compelling article, as well as the always good Mr Heisler, I can only echo some of the comments made here. Sending an undercover cop along with a battalion of cops to catch an unfortunate woman is outrageous and a failure of the system...don't they have anything better to do? deploy these cops to other criminal activities; the pimps, the traffickers, and the rest of exploiters of women...and catch the rogue cops who are operating brothels and the like in NYC. Leave these women alone...and go after the criminals.

  129. A beautiful story of a girl's dreams realized in death. Or was there another point to the story? It could have happened anywhere in the world.

  130. What a solemn, lucid, sad and poetic storytelling. It's something more than journalism. It's so disturbing and moving. It brought tears to my eyes. I am not sure if the pathos underlying the suffering of all these characters will end in foreseeable future, but the emotional power unleashed within the reader may bring about some revolution some day. Thanks for a heart touching experience Times. You have some of the most sensitive people in your team.

  131. Truly tragic. Maybe police should try hiring women officers to make these girls talk to them comfortably and not use such hard line tactics? Police should work on their soft skills to encourage the girls to open about these operators. Ironic that such operators have gone all the way up to the White House.

  132. There is only one way to end this type of prostitution: Focus on the customers.

  133. Thank you for this great reporting. With so much going on in the world, I applaud the NY Times for making space for articles that illuminate the darker side of the human condition. Especially for those who are invisible or discarded.

  134. WHY do you we permit limitless immigration?

    Are Chinese prostitutes just doing a job that Americans won't do?

  135. This piece was heartbreaking and beautifully written.

  136. It was way better than a bestseller fiction crime novel. It was sad and touching story, because it was real and still is happening not far from where I live.
    I used to go to Flushing for shopping and restaurants, never sensing that dark business was conducting so openly. I even located that place by google map and tried to visualize the surrounding.
    Again, very sad and well written touching story!!!

  137. What a deep heartfelt and even troubling story . . . yet very moving. Job well done NYT.

  138. Todd Heisler's photographs: wow.

  139. Excellent journalism.
    Thank you.

  140. What a persevering comprehensive report , a good literature as well! I "know" her type, Chinese youth who grew up in an era saw their China parents labored so hard to pull themselves out of dirt poverty. Song Yang felt she had to be strong for her aging parents and kid brother, so strong a wish that she was willing to sacrifice her personal happiness and marry an old guy in order to have equal footing as everybody else to start making a better living overseas. Having come to U.S., she wanted to save up enough to start a small business probably an eatery. But menial labor in factories or kitchen doesn't save up, Lured by the ads. in local Chinese town newspapers, she thought she could save up by being a masseuse, without realizing the huge trade risk. After signing a lease paying $3K monthly rent, plus likely a huge deposit to the landlord, she could not just stop after being caught or harassed. She must have felt that at least she had to retrieve her cost. Besides, just 2 more months she could get the coveted residence card. She was the type that would never commit a suicide, despite occasional complaints, for her love for her close-nit family was too deep to have the heart to put them in such grief. She must have tried to get away by climbing down or jumping foolishly off the 4th floor balcony.

  141. The article quotes the Police Commissioner saying that his troops will begin focusing on pimps and johns.

    But the police in this story deployed 10 people and a sting operation more appropriate for high level drug trafficking or terrorism. Special codes. Special clothing. Special phones.

    This is an absurd mis-use of public resources. If the problem is the buyer and the pimp, go after them. But deploying a small army to nab an individual woman in her apartment shows a profound misunderstanding of the problem and a vast waste of police resources.

    Doesn't the NYPD have a better idea of how to reduce prostitution? Because what they are doing now is clearly not working, and is taking scarce public safety resources away from where they are needed.