July 2, at August 29, at 3: They talk about a man who drives by in the afternoons, pretending to need someone to mow the lawn, trim some trees or paint the garage. What the man really wants is sex. Bad things can happen very fast. For the past three years, outreach workers have handed out safe-sex booklets to men at Kester and Oxnard, near one of several Los Angeles-area locations listed on a Web site used by gay and bisexual men in search of sex.
The men using the Web site target day laborers because many of them are young, alone and desperate for money — especially after passing an entire morning without finding any work, said Dr. Frank Galvan, assistant professor at the Charles R. Surprised by the discovery of the Web site in , Galvan began researching the practice across Southern California.
What he discovered alarmed him. In a survey of day laborers at the various sites listed on the Web site, 38 percent said they had been solicited for sex while seeking work.
Ten percent of them accepted the offer. A majority of those said they did not use condoms. Of those who accepted the offer, 86 percent denied being gay. During his research, Galvan was told laborers were sometimes threatened with deportation if they refused sex. County health experts say that while the soliciting of day laborers is alarming, they are more concerned about the transmission of HIV and the use of crystal meth among gay and bisexual men across all communities.
Of the day laborers surveyed, only one tested positive for HIV. Health experts estimate 48 percent of all AIDS cases are Latinos, primarily among men who have sex with other men. New cases of syphilis also jumped 40 percent in Los Angeles County last year and of the new cases, 42 percent were Latinos. Perez said if more day laborers are being solicited, those who are victimized would likely remain silent.
He said the practice has been going on for at least eight years. He said he visited five sites in Los Angeles and one in the San Fernando Valley — all of which were listed on the Web site. But he and others aware of the practice say that if it is happening in Los Angeles, then day laborers across the country are likely being solicited as well.
Their job, he said, is to warn the men they could contract HIV and to secure more funding through Los Angeles County Health Services for additional research. Nobody talks about it, but they are the new faces of AIDS. They do not speak English. Men who pick up day laborers share their stories from various states on the Web site that lists the Los Angeles locations.
They swap techniques on how to lure day laborers into their cars. Those who specialize in painting meet at one corner. Builders and masonry specialists stand at another. The younger men often get the good jobs first. They can run faster toward prospective employers. Those who speak English have an even better chance. Those left behind often linger to lean against a lightpost or to squat in the shade of a building. Sometimes, the men are approached by preachers from local storefront churches who pass out pamphlets and prayer cards that promise salvation to the born-again.
Sometimes, a man will come by and pass out fliers for local bars or strip clubs. But as morning turns to afternoon, desperation sets in among some laborers, and those who can exploit them begin to circle, Martinez and others say.
Men say it happens to them in parks. But Galvan also found that those men who had been laborers for five years or more were seven times more likely to accept sex. Galvan said more research is needed to find out why. She wanted me for the other thing. Laborers can report crimes to the coordinators, who will confront employers. And while many would shrug it off as not having it affect their own community, Martinez said think again.