She lightly kisses her patrons on the cheeks and nods in gratitude as she returns to the center of the stage of the strip club, grabs the pole, and hoists herself up to the rhythm of the music booming in the background.
After the two young men sit down and begin to drink their beers, I approach the young woman on stage. She slides down the pole gracefully while staying in sync with the beats to her routine. She approaches me at the front of the stage and never breaks eye contact. I had no idea how to approach her to ask the question that had been running through my mind since first catching wind of the information that had been given to me… Then the words just flew out of my mouth.
An increase of reported HIV infections among Fort Bliss soldiers might not be due only to men having sex with men as stated officially. I elaborated in the remaining three and a half minutes of her routine that I had received information that the increase of reported cases of HIV among soldiers here in El Paso may not have been exclusively contracted from men sex with men MSM according to sources revealed in a statement made by Maj.
Pittard in the online Fort Bliss Monitor in February. The dancer suddenly straightened up as if her body had been hit with an electric shock or possibly fear. She then asked me not to reveal her identity in order to keep her job at the strip club and with one swift move she hooked up her bra from the stage floor and disappeared with a patron into the VIP room.
The Fort Bliss commanding general, Maj. He explained that the reported cases have been attributed to men having unprotected sex with men due to online solicitations for sex. Such websites as Craigslist, Grinder, and Adam for Adam were listed as the top sites for online solicitations. However, before this statement was released in the online Fort Bliss Monitor, I was informed that an order to stay away from strip clubs in El Paso was issued to the troops at Fort Bliss according to another source, a soldier, who also fears retaliation.
This order was given right after the holiday season when there were allegedly a high number of reported cases of Ft. Bliss soldiers contracting HIV at a local strip club. Individuals from local law enforcement and hospital personnel also confirmed that they were informed of the situation and were told to be cautious, according to sources who also asked to remain anonymous because they fear retaliation. Looking for statistics, I contacted Darrel Petry, the Public Information Officer for the El Paso Police Department and I requested information on any arrests that were made during the time period of January through March for prostitution at 15 local strip clubs.
Petry said that there were no arrests for prostitution during that time period at any of those strip clubs. Ovalle said that they are also working with Fort Bliss to do condom distribution because they provide testing to many of their soldiers. In a second interview with Ovalle in late April, she said that she had just received information that because of this new program the numbers of reported HIV cases at Fort Bliss have begun to decline.
In trying to write this story I met with a lot of resistance from Fort Bliss and everyone who gave me information refused to be named for fear of retaliation or loss of employment.
A list of places soldiers are not allowed to visit is posted every three months on the Internet and all over the base. The most recent one released in November does not list any local strip clubs as places that are off limits to the soldiers.