This bench at Bancroft and Lagrange, in an area frequented by prostitute ‘Kia,’ offers help for those in the sex trade.
One is 18 years old. Barely a legal adult, he likes to cruise by Scott High School at the last bell, hanging out a car window to wave at other teens from his neighborhood.
The other is 31. Charged with prostitution at least 124 times since he began streetwalking at age 15, he worries what the future holds for a man with his past.
But both men -- arguably Toledo's two most notorious male prostitutes -- have this in common: Each was just a teen dressed in drag along what they call downtown Toledo's "ho stroll" the first time an older man paid him for sex.
"I found that I could dress like a female and make more money than the girls," said "Kia," who at 18 has been charged seven times for prostitution during his five years working the streets.
"When I was younger," said 31-year-old Angus Blaze, whose five o'clock shadow seemed at odds with the feminine sweep of his long blond bangs and ponytail, "I would just look pretty and jump in cars."
It was easy money, which both often traded for crack.
Angus Blaze, 31, who has 124 arrests for prostitution since he was 15, says he would like to leave life on the streets. Blaze said he started selling sex to get crack cocaine as a teenager but has been ‘almost killed a couple of times.'
Men could buy sex from Kia for as little as $15. "I do bargains, honey, I do deals," said the teen.
An FBI investigation known as "Innocence Lost" last year established Toledo as one of the country's top exporters of teen prostitutes. Agents described highly organized networks of pimps who rotated young girls and women around truck stops and hotels across the country.
But a year after those indictments were unsealed, teen male streetwalkers continue to work the streets of Toledo virtually undetected.
"When you look for it, you find it. I don't think we ever looked for it," said Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge James Ray.
And that's not just Toledo.
The Polaris Project combats international human trafficking. Its Ohio coordinator is Kathleen Davis. And if there's not much data about girls in the sex trade, there's even less about boys, she said.
"It's an issue that needs to be addressed, but no one does. Maybe it's because we tend to think about girls and women as being vulnerable. We don't want to admit boys end up in the same situation," said Ms. Davis.
In fact, it's unclear just how many boys work the streets of Toledo -- or any other city. Local court officials know of some half-dozen boys working the streets, an estimate echoed by Kia and Blaze.
"We knew about some individual cases," Judge Ray said, "but we never looked for [any patterns]."
Police stepped up enforcement this year against prostitutes, doubling their arrests of females over last year.
During the same period, vice officers said they found no underage males.
Holding an apple-green purse and dressed in skin-tight jeans, Kia sat in the backseat and offered a view of the city most Toledoans don't see.
"Make a left here, sweetie," he said at the corner of Woodruff and Ashland avenues. "This is the little loop the police ride around. They be out daytime, night, undercover."
Bancroft, Ashland, Woodruff, Junction, Nebraska, City Park, Cherry, Lagrange -- portions of all these streets, he said, are "ho strolls."
"Now, on the east side," he added, "you've got East Broadway, Main Street [and] little streets the police don't even know about."
Kia, who rode and talked with The Blade on the condition his real name not be used, walked the streets side-by-side with girls and women. He takes his street name from the first time he accepted money for sex, a night when he jumped into a stranger's idling Kia sedan on Ontario Street and got out a short time later $60 richer.
"We go wherever the females are because we know we can get [johns] better than them, because we can make ourselves up to look better than them. Wherever you see girls, you might see one or two boys."
Because he only sells oral sex, he said, many johns don't realize his gender. Those who do, he added, often won't admit it's another male they want. They pretend to be surprised, but Kia believes he knows better:
"No, baby," he tells them, "you're looking for me."
Those who work with these teens say boys with sexual-identity questions can end up on the streets after being forced out of their homes.
Ohio native Craig Bowman is executive director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, but for many years ran a Washington-based center for gay youth. It wasn't unusual, he said, "to arrive at work in the morning to find a kid asleep on the porch because they got beat up at home or were thrown out."
Even if gay teens aren't kicked out by their families, home life can still be tough. Since Kia's mother shot a man in the head and went to prison several years ago, he's lived with a relative he said he loves, but who "talks about me like a dog."
"She calls me all types of names and stuff ... 'Don't put your mouth and your hands on my food, you been out there turning tricks. I don't want you in my house.' "
Gay or transgendered teens, Mr. Bowman said, are among the most at risk for "survival sex" -- turning tricks for money, drugs, or simply food and a place to sleep.
Male prostitute ‘Kia’ says the intersection of Ashland Avenue and Bancroft Street is one of the areas he trolled for johns who would pay him for sex.
Heterosexual boys also prostitute themselves to male clients, experts said, but they're more commonly found hustling in large cities that are runaway meccas.
And that blurs the definition of prostitution.
David Finkelhor is a sociology professor and director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center.
In 2004, he analyzed national crime data for the U.S. Justice Department to glean what he could about juveniles in the sex trade. He defines prostitution as sex exchanged for cash or "another marketable commodity, such as drugs."
"If it's for a place to stay, not so much," he said, although "that doesn't mean those kids aren't being exploited."
Using sparse and admittedly outdated national data, he found that law enforcement identified 229 juvenile prostitutes, mostly in larger cities, from 1997 to 2000.
But chief among his conclusions about underage prostitution is this: There simply isn't enough data to draw many conclusions.
Most cities, including Toledo, don't track such arrests. Even those that do often fail to report such basic information as a prostitute's age.
Plus, police don't always agree on how to handle young hookers, male or female. Where one cop sees a teen criminal, another sees an underage victim.
After decades as a youth probation officer and now administrator of Lucas County's juvenile lock-up, Tony Garrett knows many of the area's most troubled teens.
Some are boys like Kia: open about not only their sexual orientation and preference for dressing as a female, but also their involvement in prostitution. And then there are the boys in detention who have sold sex mainly to survive.
The common denominator, said Mr. Garrett, is that they've been abused, neglected, or rejected at home.
"They come in as victims," he said.
Nancy Carroll sometimes sees the same thing.
She's the medical director of Connecting Point, a local agency for troubled or runaway kids. Caseworkers there know many kids who spend days, weeks, and even months on the run, yet somehow remain clothed and fed.
"Isn't it prostitution if you're having sex for some kind of reward?" she said.
In Cuyahoga County, Edmund Stazyk asked much the same question. A researcher for the Institute for Health and Social Policy at the University of Akron, he surveyed 1,847 juveniles in detention between 2002 and 2005.
Of those youths, he said, 80 reported exchanging sex for money, alcohol, drugs, or simply "to survive."
At 31, Angus Blaze has exchanged money for sex for half of his life.
He said that when he entered the juvenile justice system more than 15 years ago, authorities treated him neither as criminal nor victim.
They just didn't know what to do with a transgendered boy who would gladly have undergone a sex change, if only he could have afforded it.
Juvenile officials remember him vividly even today. He was the kid in handcuffs and heels.
"They thought I was crazy, and they sent me to Charter Hospital," said Blaze, whose rap sheet began at 9 years old and included a dozen different offenses.
"I kept telling them I wasn't crazy, [prostitution] was just something that I wanted to do."
But now, he said, he wants out. During a recent fight with another male prostitute, Blaze allegedly slammed the other man's head with a steam iron, and now faces a felonious assault charge.
"It used to really do something for me, getting prettied up and getting in a car with somebody ... When you're almost killed a couple of times, it's not so much fun anymore," he said during a recent interview at the jail, where a pair of nearby deputies occasionally snickered while listening in.
Kia, meanwhile -- whose lip was split in a recent scuffle with the only pimp he said he's worked for -- also wants out.
"I haven't been ho'ing for a month or two. I'm about to go back to school and rehab and do something with my life," he said.
The last time he took money for sex, he said, he got $200 to "party overnight" at a Reynolds Road motel.
Asked what he'd like to do instead, Kia couldn't quite come up with an answer.
Not two hours later, he was on a cell phone.
You know where to meet me, he cooed to a man he described as "an original friend," a long-time regular.
He walked around a corner into the parking lot of an Old West End church. A white pickup truck emerged from a nearby alley.
Kia climbed in.
Contact Robin Erb at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6133.
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