Deeper in the Shadows

Increased police pressure may be driving Springfield's prostitutes deeper into the shadows, but one segment of the city's sex industry has always been hidden there.

"Where the boys go is much more obscure,"

explains Mark Bond-Webster, a staffer at AIDS Allies and a member of the outreach program known as the Bridge Team.

The Bridge Team's main goal is to reach women, but the team also works with male prostitutes. The "boys" tend to be even younger than their female counterparts; most are between 15 and 20 years old.

The male prostitutes don't walk the streets the way the women do. They loiter behind the Springfield Newspapers building and the Peter Pan bus station, waiting for customers -- generally older men -- to pick them up.

Like the women, many of the boys are supporting drug habits. But there are a lot of runaways as well, many from the hill towns north of Springfield, many of them gay kids whose parents have kicked them out and who are now living on the streets, Bond-Webster says.

As Bond-Webster and his partner Scott Walker scout the city's streets one recent night, they periodically drive through the parking lots frequented by male prostitutes.

They spot a boy leaning stiffly against a pole, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans. He looks nervous, and, despite his beard, quite young. They pull up to him, and Bond-Webster leans out the window, asking the boy if he wants any condoms or information about HIV.

The boy stammers and politely declines. "I'm not into sex," he tells them.

Bond-Webster backs off. "OK," he says. "Be safe."

Male prostitutes have to worry as much about gay-bashers as they do the police. Sometimes the boys will hang out near gay bars; that way, if they begin to feel threatened, or if they see cops approaching, they can duck into the relative safety of the club.

The police seem to go after the male prostitutes less aggressively than they do the women, Bond-Webster says. He speculates that the double taboo of prostitution and homosexuality is so off-putting that the police "don't even want to deal with them."

-- By Maureen Turner for the Advocate