It’s known as the city that never sleeps. A tourist hotspot where anything is possible…
But New York is now under scrutiny for its hustlers and so-called desnudas – women, often wearing little more than body paint, who pose for photos with tourists in return for a tip.
Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio has set up a task force, which will look at ways to curb solicitations in the Square, with a focus on aggressive demands for payment.
“I said very clearly I don’t like it. I don’t think it helps the environment there and we’re going to do something about it. I expect a report back, with very tangible actions, no later than October 1, maybe sooner,” he said.
The task force will look into hustlers operating in Times Square, where the practice is prevalent.
One such panhandler, as they’re known, suggest tourists are not paying enough.
“I can have a small tip, please? And they said ‘Oh, maybe a dollar.’ For four guys… What can you do with a dollar? People think we are toys, really toys,” he said, from underneath a Mickey Mouse costume. “We are not toys!”
Some tourists appear to enjoy watching the panhandlers:
“I think it’s cool to make a photograph with Iron Man in Times Square,” said Toby, a German tourist.
But others, such as Honduran tourist Angel, felt harassed:
“In the first instance, he said one to three dollars. Then he said five dollars. So we had to pay five dollars for a picture. It’s no good.”
But the task force raises questions about civil rights in a city with an ‘anything goes’ attitude, where both toplessness and panhandling are legal, to an extent.
Times Square’s famous Naked Cowboy, Robert Buck, said it was wrong not to expect things to be out of the ordinary, but drew the line at harassment.
“You want to see some crazy stuff (…) People come here to see that. We’re not in Utah. However, the aggressive panhandling, the jumping up in their face and then demanding money, that is not legal,” he stipulated.