The Big Apple has set up a task force to investigate how to curb topless women and costumed characters in Times Square. The city fears that this is taking entertainment too far as tourists complain of harassment.
Officials announced the task force's creation on Thursday, amidst growing concerns of street performers aggressively demanded tips after posing for tourists' photos.
The presence of nude entertainers also raised questions of decency.
"Over the past several months, serious concerns have been raised about both the appropriateness of topless individuals in Times Square, as well as aggressive solicitation by topless individuals and costumed characters that often times becomes harassment of New Yorkers and visitors alike," Mayor Bill de Blasio's office said.
Common indecency or female empowerment?
The half-naked women sport a thong, high heels, a feathered headdress and body paint as their uniform. Their bosoms are painted in patriotic red, white and blue with stars and stripes. The street entertainers cozy up to tourists for souvenir pictures in exchange for a generous tip.
Cartoon characters and superheroes have long been an issue, but the recent arrival of the nude women has irked New York City's sensibilities and ramped up the push to rid Times Square of such performers.
At least a dozen topless women show up each day, but the controversy has kept all but the most defiant away.
"Everybody's entitled to their own opinion. If [the mayor] wants us out of here, he can try it," Saira Nicole, one of the women, said to AFP.
"We're having fun. We're entertainers. People love us," her colleague Angel told AFP, seeing no cause for offense and describing herself as a feminist.
"A woman's body shouldn't be a sexual thing. A child should not grow up thinking that a woman's body is something purely sexual."
Protecting tourists from aggressive panhandling
The Times Square Alliance says that tourists complain about the topless women, but also about other costumed characters. A survey found that 45 percent of employees who work near Times Square have witnessed or been involved in a negative interaction with a street performer soliciting money.
"Millions of families and visitors come to Times Square every year to see and experience the bustling metropolis of New York City – the crossroads of the world," de Blasio said.
"Yet that experience has been diminished by the proliferation of topless individuals and costumed characters who too often harass people and expose families to inappropriate acts."
The task force will "aggressively pursue every avenue for regulating these behaviors," said the mayor.
But it remains uncertain what authorities can do.
It is legal for men and women to be topless in New York. The first amendment of the US constitution protects a person's right to wear a costume. Asking for money is also allowed.
Only "aggressive" panhandling is banned.
The task force is scheduled to report its findings back to city hall by October 1. The group was convened by mayor and is to be co-chaired by Police Commissioner William Bratton and Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod.
kb/ (Reuters, dpa, AFP)