Male sex workers targets of violence: study

Published: June 15, 2014

BANGALORE: Sexual violence, which is believed to be a common occurrence in the flesh trade, is not restricted to women only. Men who have Sex with Men (MSMs) and Transgenders (MSM-Ts) are silent victims of sexual violence and in most cases, the perpetrators are their own clients, a study conducted across 534 such men living in Bellary, Shimoga, Mysore and Belgaum districts.

In 61 per cent of the cases, the person who committed sexual violence were clients, said the study recently published in PLOS One, a journal of the Public Library of Sciences.

Agreeing with these findings, Krishnaiah, a volunteer who works with sexual minorities as part of HIV intervention programmes, said compared to female sex workers (FSW), MSMs are more vulnerable to sexual abuse by their partners as well as others for various reasons, including their appearance and behaviour.

Explaining the reasons, he said, “MSMs have a feminine personality unlike female sex workers who look completely like women. This makes them easy targets for violence as they find it difficult to pick up clients in a discreet manner.”

In fact, the study has recommended the inclusion of violence prevention as part of HIV prevention programmes and health services.

However, Krishnaiah added the surveys may not entirely reflect the real situation as sources of violence are plenty and non-acceptance of their sexual identity is sometimes misconstrued as violence.

“When MSMs pick up clients, they do not typically stand at bus stops and parks which are spots where FSWs normally pick up their clients. When clients approach them, it attracts attention, leading to police sometimes coming to the spot and may sometimes lead to violence,” he pointed out.

Why MSM-Ts faced More violence?

The study also revealed MSMs are a at higher risk of sexual violence than female sex workers. It also mentioned other studies done earlier, that found that MSM-Ts engaging in sex work were two-folds more likely to have experienced physical and verbal harassment.

Dr Suresh Bada Math, Additional Professor of Psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), stated the reason for higher incidence of violence as the lack of protected networks for prostitution among MSMs.

“The network of commercial sex work is organised and run by pimps who protect sex workers. Such a network does not exist in the case of MSM-Ts,” he said.

The study observed that while female sex work is quasi-criminalised, in case of MSM-Ts it is not. This could be a reason why police violence is also higher (18 per cent) as pointed out by the findings.

Dr Math said, “The incidence of violence is equally prevalent. When it comes to prostitution among FSWs, just soliciting a client in public is illegal, but in case of MSMs, it is considered as unnatural under law and this may be a reason why police may inflict violence on them.”

However, economic violence is higher among FSWs, which is again because it usually happens through rackets, he added.

Rajesh Umadevi, a programme manager at Sangama, an NGO, said condom use is a main bone of contention between clients and MSM sex workers and so is sexual abuse. “Sometimes, a group of men come and sexually abuse homosexual sex workers. The abuse is particularly high in kothis and among homosexuals who are more feminine compared to others in their community,” he said.

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