Updated Sun. May. 17 2009 1:23 PM ET
The Canadian Press
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. I got out because there were folks there willing to open doors for me when I had decided that I had enough,” says Taylor, who grew up in Ontario but moved to Vancouver in 1996.
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, had previously conducted extensive research into the plight of female sex workers, but realized men had been largely forgotten.
“I’ve had a fair bit of guilt about it — that it was ignored for so long,” she says.”People don’t even see them, they don’t notice them. 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 agrees 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 per cent 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. Young men do not have that option … it’s not something people are celebrating,” says McIntyre.
Seventy-five per cent of respondents reported sexual abuse and 85 per cent 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,” says McIntyre.
Taylor says 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, says Taylor, who got into the sex trade at 31 because he wanted to belong. Addictions followed before he finally left three years ago.
In Alberta, efforts have been made to improve the plight of sexually exploited young men.
“If you look at the ratios of males-to-females that we provide support to, I think they’re equally as successful at exiting,” says Sarita Dighe-Bramwell, with Alberta Children and Youth Services.
“I think the difference is we don’t recognize enough of the males,” she says, adding that help is now being provided to more boys.
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.
“People need to know that this population exists and stop ignoring it,” says McIntyre.