Male prostitutes – an invisible group of high vulnerability

A male prostitute is a man who offers sexual services to another man or woman in return for money, material goods, or drugs.[1]

According to the results of  the EMIS[2] survey carried out in Greece, 9.8% of the 2380 respondent men who had sex with men (SMR) paid someone to have sex with them, while 2.6% received money at least once to have sex. The legal situation is not clear. Law No. 2734/1999 that legalizes prostitution in certain conditions, can be extended to both women and men. The Penal Code, however, continues to criminalize male prostitution (Article 347).

In general we can say that male prostitution in Greece is not organized. There are specific places where people who work as prostitutes go, either outdoors (roads, parks, squares), or indoors (bars, saunas, porn film cinemas). However, these places do not operate exclusively as places of prostitution. In recent years male prostitutes have used classified advertisements and the internet to advertise their services.

Male prostitutes are usually young and they do not define themselves as prostitutes, nor do they think of prostitution as a profession, but as a way of earning some money quickly. A large number of male prostitutes are foreigners and most of them have no legal documentation or residence permits.

Research carried out in southern European countries on the existence of programs for male prostitutes [3] showed that only about 1/10 of all the programs targeting sex workers and prostitutes included men.

Male prostitutes thus seem to be invisible to designers of social policy, to services, and to the funders of such programs mainly because male prostitution has never been officially recognized and registered. Generally, the number of male prostitutes is much smaller than that of female prostitutes and for funders of the programs, that translates into a large sum of money for a relatively small group.

Male prostitution differs considerably from the female prostitution [4].

  • The men appear to enter prostitution voluntarily and rarely work with pimps, or under fear or threat. For most of them, their involvement in prostitution is associated with an acute financial problem and ends with the solution of the problem.
  • Their short career as a prostitute and their mobility means these men do not identify themselves as prostitutes, especially if they think of themselves as heterosexual. This creates significant difficulties in approaching and talking to them openly about their sexuality and their living conditions. It also makes it difficult for them to develop a responsible or professional attitude towards what they do. The taboo of homosexuality leads to further marginalization so they end up suffering a double stigma both as prostitutes and as homosexuals. In the case of foreign male prostitutes, the stigmatization is threefold.
  • Even the relationship with the customer is different. While female prostitutes are subjected to violence by their own customers, male prostitutes are subjected to violence mostly by homophobic people. At the same time, they themselves are more prone to use violence on their clients because of their own internalized homophobia.
  • In general, male prostitution does not seem to have a specific structure and functions in a more personal and underground (hidden) way. Male prostitutes appear to belong to a group even more difficult to reach than female prostitutes. They seem to be almost invisible, but they are not non-existent.

Male prostitutes are vulnerable to high-risk behaviors. This is not simply a matter of personal responsibility and conscience, but is connected to their socio-economic position[5].

The key factors that increase the risk of infection in cases of prostitution men are:

  • Limited knowledge about preventing sexually transmitted diseases, especially if these people come from countries where there is poor information on these issues.
  • A poor economic situation leading to dependence on customers. In these cases it is easier to succumb to proposals for unsafe sex.
  • Dependence on drugs, which significantly influences sound decision-making.
  • Feelings of low self-esteem brought about by their occupation and a non-existent social support network. These feelings lead to indifference for their own health.
  • The sole purpose of making money easily and quickly which means that health care becomes a much lower priority for them in relation to their other problems.
  • In many cases, poor or no acceptance or management of their sexual orientation, leading to self-destructive behavior regarding their health.
  • In the case of illegal migrants, fear of persecution because of their illegal status increases their feelings of anxiety. Their health, especially their sexual health, is not a priority for them anymore.
  • Ignorance of the services that exist in the health care system, so they do not even know where they can go if they need health services.

From the very beginning, the Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO) has acknowledged the problems that arise from the issue of male prostitution. KEELPNO participated as a national coordinator of the European Network Male Prostitution (ENMP) from 1998 to 2003, while for the period 2000–2003 it was responsible for coordinating the activities of the network in southern Europe [6].

Since 2012, KEELPNO[7] has implemented street work as the most effective approach to male prostitutes [8,9]. The project addresses both the male prostitutes and their customers. The target group includes transsexual and transgender persons who work as prostitutes on the street or in brothels. The project takes place in the historic center of Athens, both in outdoor venues, such as streets and parks, and in indoor venues, such as porn film cinemas, sex clubs, bars, saunas, hotels and other “cruising” areas. The services offered include distribution of condoms and lubricants as well as information on their use and safer sex; information on existing health services and how to access them, and referrals for anonymous and free testing for STDs and hepatitis. Eventually, this street work project will become the link to the Salter for Prostitutes called “Open Doors” that is going to operate in KEELPNO soon.

 

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the street work team, A. Tsolakis, P. Mauragannis, K. Nikolaropoulos, S. Tsevas, P. Katasounos, A. Mallios, A. Korakis, G. Chatzistylianakis and S. Benekos.

 

References
  1. Allman D. M is for mutual, A is for Acts. Male sex work and AIDS in Canada. Health Canada.
  2. EMIS European internet survey concerning sexual health and behavior of men who have sex with men. National Coordinator, “Positive Voice”, June–August 2010.
  3. Damaskos P, Rodrigues Α. 2002. Needs assessment in southern Europe Manual: tips, tricks and models of good practice for service providers considering, planning or implementing services for male sex workers. Compiled by European Network Male Prostitution, Amsterdam.
  4. Damaskos P. 2002. What makes male sex work specific? EUROPAP/ENMP Conference: Sex work and health in a changing Europe. Milton Keynes, 18–20 January.
  5. Gaffney J, Velcevsky P, Phoenix J, Schiffer K. 2008. Practical Guidelines for Delivering Health Services to Sexworkers. Foundation Regenboog AMOC, Correlation Network Amsterdam.
  6. The Office for Psychosocial Support represented KEELPNO in all the actions of the network.
  7. The project is implemented by the Department of Community Interventions through the Office for Psychosocial Support and Psychotherapeutic Interventions.
  8. The International Network of Social Street Workers. 2008. Street work. An international handbook. Bruxelles.
  9. Broering G. 1995. Streetwork mit homo- und bisexuellen Maennern. Aspekte einer Methode der strukturellen AIDS-Prevention. Berlin: Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe e.V.

Panagiotis Damaskos, Health Sociologist,
Head of the Office for Psychosocial Support and Psychotherapeutic Interventions