Since 2003, December 17th has been recognized as the international day to end violence against sex workers. On this day, it should also be acknowledged that the impulse of many is to immediately picture a sex worker as female. This does not represent an accurate picture of those in the sex trade as there are also many males who are also sex workers and they, too, can just as easily be victims of violence due to this line of work.
According to a study done by Dr. Sue Mcintyre, “Under the Radar: the Sexual Exploitation of Young Men”, men enter the sex trade at a younger age than women and they stay in it longer. Men stay in the sex trade longer because they do not have the same options which female sex workers have to escape. Men cannot have a baby and then have the state act as a surrogate father, nor do they have the large quantities of shelter options for fleeing abuse that women have. Men also find it harder to seek out help, what little help there is, due to the social constraints of masculinity which expects them to handle things on their own. This may also have contributed to them getting into the sex trade in the first place, as it was the only way they saw available for them to take care of for themselves.
Of the 37 young men who Sue Mcintyre interviewed, about 75% began doing sex work before they were 18 years old. Although they identified as gay, straight, and bi-sexual, they feared being assaulted for being perceived as gay. Their dependency on drugs was extensive and they felt that no one should have to do this kind of work. Sometimes the drugs were used to help them cope with the situation they found themselves in, as was the case with Sydney:
“I’d have to relax so he got me doing glue…. he would pull me out of school and take me to his mother’s house and he would sodomize me. He wouldn’t drive me back. He’d drive me to the bus stop…. I remember just crying.” (Sydney #31)
Given the nature of sex work and the extensive drug use by this population, men are at a high risk of acquiring HIV and other STD’s. All of the men interviewed reported that they had access to HIV/STD testing and that they also utilized these resources.
Shelters for the homeless are not the same as female-only shelters for women fleeing violence. Homeless shelters are rarely safe refuges from violence, and those who stay in them are often re-victimized in numerous ways (assaulted, robbed, etc.). Many shelters, particularly emergency shelters, help clients survive the night, but do not help get them off of the street for the long-term. These may aid male sex workers in the short-term, but they do not provide the stability required for them to exit the trade.
Another issue with social services comes from most of these sex workers beginning at a very early age, well under the age of 18. Youth actively avoid outreach workers who have the authority to apprehend and detain youth for up to 47 days under the “Protection of Children Involved In Prostitution” act (PCHIP). They recently changed this to the “Protection of Sexually Exploited Children” (PSEC), in which they highlight that if a child who wishes to seek to exit the sex trade will be given assistance and resources to accomplish this. However:
“A child who does not want to end his or her involvement in prostitution can be apprehended by Police or a Child Protection Worker. The Police or Child Protection Worker would then take the child to a protective safe house, where the child can be confined for up to five days.”
This does not solve the issue of young men in the sex trade actively avoiding outreach workers who, without this legislation, could be providing them with resources without boys being fearful of being apprehended. An outreach worker for AIDS Calgary, Dan Briggs, said that youth typically avoided all outreach workers until they turned 18. After they turned 18, when they didn’t fear being apprehended, only then did they start to approach him and allow him to assist them. This allowed him to discuss with them the realities of HIV, STD’s, and other risks associated with the sex trade. Given the early age at which males enter the sex trade, this could be long after much avoidable damage has already been done.
“I must have been 13. I am 22 now. Nine years that’s a long time. (Harry #23)
“Eight years old. It wasn’t really a hustle, it was a rape and money and I left out of guilt.” (Elton # 11)
“I was turning nine.” (Carl #22)
Apprehending in the name of protection, literally arresting the victim, exacerbates the problem by creating distance between social services and those who they seek to help. Instead, these young men fly under the radar, purposefully, out of fear. These boys, who already have issues with authority, will not emerge until after they have already been working in fear for several years. Not just a fear of being victimized by individuals, but a fear of being re-victimized by the system. Due to the young age at which men enter the trade, a re-examining of youth services and youth shelters is also required.
Men have different needs than women and their experiences in sex-work are not congruent with women in the sex trade. The young men Dr. McIntyre spoke with pointed out that her interview questions were “chick questions”, causing Dr. McIntyre to question the overarching female lens usually applied to aiding those in sex work. This simple comment, from the men themselves, highlights the way in which a feminist, female-driven perspective is sometimes inappropriate for dealing with men’s issues. Dr. McIntyre felt this challenge was what drove her to do a study focusing solely on males and the male perspective of sex work.
Women attempting to exit the sex trade have far more resources than their male counterparts. A woman can access a women’s shelter for protection from a violent source, such as an intimate partner, a pimp, or a client. For the men, if they were trying to escape a similar violent source, they do not have the same resources with which to seek asylum as women in the trade do. Where is a young man in the sex trade to seek refuge? Of those interviewed, 86% had experienced staying in shelters, but these are just your average homeless shelter and not the same as the kinds of shelters women have access to. This means that 86% to 100% experienced homelessness. I say up to 100% because the other 14% may have just not wanted to stay in a shelter or managed to sell themselves for a place to stay.
“My first legitimate trick in my head was when I was on the run when I was 14. I was very aware of what I was doing for food and shelter.” (Jordan #2)
While both male and female sex workers fear being victims of violence, their fear stems from different sources. Females tend to fear violence from their clients, while males fear violence as a result of being gay bashed (of which 54% reported they had been, regardless of their sexuality). This is not to say that men did not also fear or suffer violence from their clients as well.
While the client base for a male sex-worker is predominantly male, there are also females who utilize their services. In Dr. McIntyre`s study, 18% of young men reported being approached by a woman, but that it did not occur frequently. 43% reported being approached by woman seeking to have a threesome with another male (typically a heterosexual couple). 40% of the respondents said they were never approached by a woman.
“I probably can’t count the number of times I’ve been involved with couples and where the woman has approached me. I would say probably eight to ten times I was approached by the woman for that.” (Jordan #2)
The wheel may not need to be completely reinvented, but it certainly needs to be re-examined. There is little to no help for men fleeing violent situations, and it is even more difficult for men living this violent and dangerous lifestyle. Most social services and anti-violence programs have been pushed by a feminist lens, as Dr. McIntyre herself admits, and this perspective should be re-examined to see where and how it is failing men in what is perceived as similar situations, but often is not.
It is often said in my field of Social Work that to help someone of a different identity than you, you must take a position of listening. A white person who wants to help a black person must take a position of listening. Vice versa, if a black person feels they want to help a white person, they must listen to the white person’s perspective. This is true of men and women. Feminists felt that men who wanted to help had to adopt a position of listening. Unfortunately, more often than not, men’s voices are not listened to, their perspectives are not viewed, and the results do them more harm than good. Dr. McIntyre took the initiative herself and redid her study of sex workers by focusing on men and their experiences in the trade. Her eyes were opened to the uniqueness of their experience in contrast to that of the women she interviewed. This is what is required in order to more adequately address men’s issues, which are often unique to those of women.
“I would tell them that the studies they’re doing right now are good to find out all about us, about the problem, where it originated, how they can help, not as you know their given terms but as people who care, so you would tell them maybe be less focused on what their professional role is and more on what the people need.” (Elton #34)
-Unless otherwise linked, all information is from: McIntyre, S. (2005). Under the radar: The sexual exploitation of young men. Canada.