News / Vancouver

Vancouver’s men sex workers underrepresented and under-supported: Report

First evidence-based research into men sex workers in Vancouver shows how gentrification has pushed the trade online, impacted safety.

Vancouver's entertainment district. A new report chronicles how the city's men sex workers have been moved off the street and into cyberspace because of gentrification, urban planning and police enforcement, particularly in Yaletown, downtown south and the West End.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro File

Vancouver's entertainment district. A new report chronicles how the city's men sex workers have been moved off the street and into cyberspace because of gentrification, urban planning and police enforcement, particularly in Yaletown, downtown south and the West End.

A new report is shedding light on one of the most invisible segments of Vancouver’s population: Men sex workers.

The B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Health Initiative for Men and Gender and Sexual Health Initiative have published a study in the American Journal of Men’s Health interviewing both sex workers and clients, outlining how gentrification, urban planning and police enforcement has scattered sex workers who identify as men off the streets (historically in parts of Yaletown, once known as “Boystown”) and onto the Internet.

The study found that while the shift has broken some sense of community within the industry and made sex workers more isolated, it has also in many cases created safer work environments because men can screen clients online, negotiate terms and discuss their health status in advance of meeting in an agreed on setting.

Interacting online also helped reduce stigma, the study found.

That extra layer of safety, however, is under threat by federal laws brought in by the previous Conservative government banning the advertisement of sex work online and through third parties.

The Community Health Assessment of Men Who Purchase and Sell Sex (CHAPS) project interviewed 39 men sex workers and eight buyers are part of the study.

The majority, 51 per cent, solicit online, following by street (46), by word of mouth (28), at bars (13) and in bathhouses (3).

Seven per cent identified as two-spirit, four per cent as trans.

Forty-four per cent identified as gay, 26 as bisexual, 15 per cent straight and 13 per cent gave themselves either no label or replied other.

Forty-nine per cent identified as indigenous.

“It is some of the very first evidence-based research in Canada, maybe even globally, around the realities of men in sex work,” said Matthew Taylor, program manager at Health Initiatives for Men and its HUSTLE support program, which specifically helps men sex workers. “It’s critical because too often in the conversation and narrative around sex work, men have been an afterthought or left out of the conversation altogether. Not a lot is known about how men work and that they do work in the industry.”

Through all the accumulated individual interviews, Taylor said the study provides a snapshot of what is going in in the community.

It also establishes that men are indeed under-represented and under-supported in the industry.

HUSTLE is just one of three programs in Canada that cater to men sex workers, and Taylor said it often helps workers from outside the city, even the country, as well.

“With more research, that will provide support for the need for more programming,” said Taylor. “[The study] provides some insight into some of the things that potentially make sex work safer but also ways the laws are actually limiting, prohibiting and making it more unsafe.”

Taylor hopes the data can be used to lobby the new Liberal government to repeal some of the more harmful parts of the legislation that are putting workers at further risk.

Researcher Andrea Krusi, with the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said it’s hard to determine how large the men sex worker population really is because it is still highly criminalized, stigmatized and isolated.

But by embarking on the project, organizations can learn how to better reach the community, ensure they have access to health care and testing and determine what kind of health and social interventions are acceptable.

“We literally don’t know very much about men in the sex industry here in the Canadian context,” said Krusi. “One thing I found surprising about this study was the diversity of men within the sex industry, both in terms of gender identity and in terms of sexual orientation. We think our sample is quite representative of the men in the industry.”

As part of the ongoing CHAPS program, Krusi said research plan to release more in-depth manuscripts of their interview and apply for more funding to follow-up with the group and learn more about their health status, history with violence and more indicators in the future.

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