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Male sex trade workers lacking support

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CALGARY—Matthew Taylor is one of the lucky ones. After eight years selling his body on the streets of Vancouver, he was able to find the support he needed to get out of the sex trade and now he runs an outreach program for male prostitutes.

“I decided it was time to be found again. I’d gotten pretty lost,” said Taylor, who grew up in Ontaro but moved to Vancouver in 1996.

“I got out because there were folks there willing to open doors for me when I had decided that I had enough,” he noted.

Taylor, who is now 40, had been both a male escort and a cross-dressing transsexual worker, both on and off the street.

Since then, he has helped found HUSTLE: Men on the Move, which provides support for men involved in sex work in Vancouver.

His story is echoed in a new report entitled “Under the Radar: The Sexual Exploitation of Young Men,” which found that men in the sex trade often end up alone and without support.

The report’s author, Sue McIntyre, previously had conducted extensive research into the plight of female sex workers, but realized men had been largely forgotten.

“People don’t even see them, they don’t notice them,” she noted. “Even when there are outreach programs in a lot of different cities that do work with this population, they’re usually geared more for working with young women in the trade.”

Taylor agreed that organizations and services see men as an afterthought.

“I don’t think [people] can wrap their head around sex work, and that men are vulnerable and can be exploited.”

McIntyre sought input from 157 male sex-trade workers in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba and concluded they have no exit strategy. Her report, which paints a bleak picture for men who work as sex-trade workers, suggests comprehensive changes.

For most of the sex-trade workers, it is “survival sex”—having enough money for food, shelter, clothing, and often to support addictions.

Although many are gay, others are “gay for pay.”

More than 99 percent of their customers are men, and they work for an average of nine years—double the time of their female counterparts.

“Young women can birth a baby, have a desire to have a child, and that brings back state and family support,” said McIntyre. “Young men do not have that option . . . it’s not something people are celebrating.”

Seventy-five percent of respondents reported sexual abuse and 85 percent were physically assaulted before they ran away from home. They reported feeling shame and self-loathing.

Even social workers who work with sex-trade workers report being uncomfortable dealing with them.

“That was really alarming for me. There’s an underlying sort of homophobia that goes with it,” said McIntyre.

Taylor said another reason why men are alone is that society has conditioned them to be strong and silent.

“Men are supposed to . . . feel no pain, not show their weaknesses, and have greater perceived physical strength,” noted Taylor, who got into the sex trade at 31 because he wanted to belong.

Addictions followed before he finally left three years ago.

McIntyre’s report recommends specialized programs to help male prostitutes get out. and says that should include detox and rehabilitation beds, housing, and help finding other employment.

It also says there should be mentoring programs, and adds that staff working with young men in the sexual exploitation trade should be provided with gender non-conformity training.

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