New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to take action against semi-naked women who parade around Times Square, offering to pose for photos in exchange for cash. Many tourists feel coerced into posing with the women wearing little more than a bit of body paint.
The women, known as desnudas, often accost men and rub themselves up against them while offering to pose for pictures. After the often reluctant men pose for the photo, the women demand money. Embarrassed and wishing to avoid a scene, the men usually pay up.
De Blasio said he believes the practice is "wrong" but acknowledged that the women may be protected under the First Amendment, which allows freedom of expression. Toplessness is legal in New York, but aggressively soliciting payment is not. The New York Daily News reported that the women are "managed" by shadowy men who watch over them, reapply their body paint and take a cut of their earnings.
Times Square has always tolerated sketch artists and buskers like the famous Naked Cowboy. In recent years, the square has been inundated by furry creatures. On an average day, there may be four or five Elmos, a couple of Minions, endless Disney characters and an array of Statues of Liberty.
Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, told the New York Times that during one week in late June, there were more than 120 costumed characters and 11 painted ladies in the area.
The increased competition for tourist dollars is leading to more aggressive behaviour. A recent survey found that 45% of people who work in and around Times Square had either had an unpleasant interaction with a costumed character, or had witnessed aggressive soliciting of payment from tourists.