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THE CHOICE FOR SOME TEENS, DECISIONS ON SEX AND DRUGS-WITH LIFE-OR-DEATH CONSEQUENCES

JAMESTOWN -- The pretty blond schoolgirl knew that the man who lived on Willard Street had a bad reputation. He gave her the creeps. But when he beckoned her and her girlfriend to his house one boring summer afternoon, they said sure.

"There was marijuana and stuff all over the place -- a bong in every room," recalls the girl, now 16 and a student at Jamestown High School. "But I didn't know it was a crack house until later."

When the man she knew only as "Face" asked for sex, she said no.

It may have saved her life.

When officials accused "Face" -- 20-year-old Nushawn Williams -- of spreading the HIV virus to at least 10 Chautauqua girls, adults gasped.

The number of lives one alleged sexual predator touched would fill two school buses. Twenty-eight girls as young as 13 gave themselves to him; some were picked up in parks, some were trading sex for drugs. Those girls then exposed at least 58 other teens through unprotected sex.

More than a decade into the AIDS epidemic, parents asked in agony, with HIV education in every school, how could this happen?

The answer -- gleaned from talking to Jamestown teen-agers hours after the news broke -- is almost more painful.

For some teens, careless sex is frequent and normal. Drugs and alcohol are easy to get and readily abused.

Some of them, including the 16-year-old girl described above, were willing to let their full names be used in this article, but because they are minors, The News is withholding the names.

The teens weren't pretending to speak for their community. They weren't saying that Chautauqua County was worse than anywhere else.

What they said was that Nushawn Williams just took advantage of the way kids already were before he came to town.

On a cold, slushy Monday night, only hours after the biggest story in county memory had made the network news, a dozen teens were hanging around the parking lot of the Quality Market plaza on Foote Avenue.

They huddled in cars, smoking cigarettes, or knocked on windows to flirt and make plans for later.

Inside the Revco Pharmacy, a skinny boy wearing a Detroit Tigers cap was
making his own plans at the condom counter. He picked up a box of Ramses Extra Premium lubricated condoms.

"I don't usually use 'em," the 17-year-old said outside. "But after today my girl said I can't come to the party unless I wear a hat."

Most of his friends don't use condoms because they're a hassle, and they're embarrassing to get, he said.

So he was planning to sell condoms for $1 each at school.

"Guys are getting scared," he said. "Who knows if that girl has it now, or that one?"

Getting wasted with friends was the main amusement for many teens, especially during the summer, he said.

Beer was rarely hard to get, from older brothers or from stores that don't ask for ID. Marijuana was easy, except for late summers, but some kids prefer crack cocaine, "if they like gettin' a little crazy."

In places like "the hundred-acre," a park behind Jamestown Community College, teens can usually party without getting hassled, he said. He doubted that many relationships began around the campfires, but "maybe some one-time things. You go in there with a 12-pack and everybody's your friend."

Lori, 16, eyed the Revco condom counter, too, then turned and left the store. She was thinking about condoms, she admitted, but she had spotted a friend of her mother's. She didn't want to give her last name, because she didn't want her mother to know she was having sex.

She lost her virginity at 14, which she believed was average for her class. "I didn't really like (sex) until last year," when she got a new 24-year-old boyfriend, she said. "He really loves me, and that makes a big difference."

Her boyfriend doesn't like condoms, so she's on the pill, she said. But the news scared her enough to try buying some.

Lori said she couldn't believe that so many girls fell for Williams' alleged lures of drugs and alcohol. "It's not like it's so hard to get stuff that you have to sleep with some guy," she said. "They must have been real desperate."

In Mayville, Ashley Seaton was startled to hear that HIV had arrived in Chautauqua County. "I didn't think there would be any around Mayville," she said in a phone interview. She associates the disease with big cities. When the news was announced at her school, Chautauqua Lake High, "you could have heard a pin drop in an assembly of 350 kids," said Superintendent Don Belcer.

Outside Revco, the pretty, blond 16-year-old Jamestown High student and a girlfriend puffed on Newports and jangled their keys.

Moments before, she had sat numbly in front of Williams' mug shot on the television screen. She knew about the mysterious, nameless man who was spreading his virus. But it wasn't until the 6 o'clock news that she realized he was "Face" from Willard Street.

"I wanted to cry," she says. "I felt sick."

Sick that an HIV-positive predator tried to spread his disease to her.

Sick that for two days -- before he went to jail for "something to do with credit cards" -- she dated one of Williams' buddies.

But sickest of all that two former friends, including the one who went with her that dull summer day, made the wrong decision.

They slept with Williams.

One of them, she has heard, is infected.

That's the way it is in small towns. People hear things, and there will be no other subject to talk about for weeks to come. A stranger walks into the Sunoco station and hears the attendant sighing in relief, "I'm sure glad I don't have daughters."

His customer says he knows what will happen next. Within days, "everyone in this town" will know the names on Williams' list.

The girl outside Revco already knows two.

One of the girls thought someone else, another sexual partner, had given her the virus, she said. "She's gonna flip out when she finds out it's not who she thought it was."

This is her world. She is 16, in a place where being 16 can mean that you're not sure which partner gave you HIV.

She knows all about sex. She has taken an AIDS test three times now, "just to make sure." She knows her contraceptives from A to Z. "I'm on the pill now," she says. "My boyfriend and I have used everything: foam, condoms . . . everything."

When asked why she no longer speaks with the two girls she knows had sex with Williams, she pushes her long blond hair over her shoulders. She stares down at the North Carolina Tar Heels key ring looped around her neck and waits before she replies.

"I don't hang out with them anymore," she says. Her voice is reduced to a whisper.

"I have gotten into a couple of raping situations." Twice, she says, she was raped by the girls' friends. In all, she says, she was raped three times.

Introspection is rare. This 11th-grader is responsible enough to answer her mom's page, but she can't explain why she hung out with Williams on three separate occasions, repeatedly fending off his advances.

"It was something to do."

She admits she knew he was trouble long before he propositioned her.

Seeing the young women enter and leave his house only confirmed her suspicions.

"I thought he was gross," she says. "Well, I thought he was OK at first, but then he drove me nuts because all he wanted to do was go to bed."

Why she hung around with a virtual stranger, someone who harassed her for sex, she can't explain.

She was not interested in his drugs, she says. And she didn't drink. She just hung out.

"I don't know," she said over and over.

She made the right choice. And she's going to live because of it.

Whatever. She had other things on her mind. Her friend, bored with the conversation, beckons her to get into the car. The two have a physical for cheerleading. Tryouts are in a few days.

"Hopefully," she said, "if I don't make varsity, I'll make JV."

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