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Illustrative: Most male sex workers start at a young age

For Israel's male prostitutes, escape can be a dim dream

Most have a history of childhood sexual abuse and many get into sex work at a young age, they have very high rates of STDs and almost no way to get out; already limited state options for rehabilitation are getting slimmer, and no one seems to care

Or Sopher |
Published: 02.20.21, 09:12
There are hundreds of men in Israel who are involved in prostitution, some occasionally and others on a daily basis, according to a 2016 government survey.
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  • Most offer their services in discreet apartments and massage parlors, while just one fifth of them are on the streets.
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    Illustrative: Most male sex workers start at a young age
    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    Nearly half of the men engaged in street sex work began before they turned 18 and have only nine years of schooling on average. And half of them are Muslim.
    Most men who provide sex services in discreet apartments started offering their services after the age of 25 and have an average of 12 years of schooling. The vast majority of them are Jewish.
    Activists working in the field insist that some of the data presented in this five-year-old survey is different to the situation on the ground and may vary depending on geographical location.
    One fact remains undisputed: prostitution begins at a young age for both men and women.
    "Some start even at 12 or 13," says Maya Baron, director of ELEM's program for high-risk youth.
    "At first, it doesn't look like the prostitution we may know. It has other forms - the adolescent provides a certain sexual act in exchange for something - and that something can be a box of cigarettes, a place to rest their head or anything else," she says.
    "At this point, the adolescents do not necessarily feel exploited and do not perceive themselves as part of the sex industry. By the age of 20 to 21, it is already taking the form of blatant commercial prostitution."
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    ידיעות
    ידיעות
    Female sex workers in Israel
    (Photo: Archive)
    According to Baron, most customers who use male prostitutes are men and do not necessarily identify as gay.
    Male prostitutes are also not necessarily part of the gay community; they simply sell their bodies to those who are willing to pay.
    The survey shows over two-thirds of male prostitutes provide sex services only to other men, close to a quarter provide sex services only to women and about a tenth provide services to both sexes.
    The reasons for young men entering prostitution are many and varied, just like their female counterparts, but in both genders, sexual abuse during childhood plays a key role.
    "We tend to think that girls are abused more, but that's not true," Baron says.
    "By the age of 12, and possibly even 16, estimates suggest the rates of abuse are near identical. Still, there are more girls than boys in prostitution," she says.
    "I guess the reasons behind this are cultural and social and has to do with the fact that girls are more likely to hurt themselves, while boys are more likely to develop criminal tendencies.
    While Baron says sex workers almost always experience some form of sexual abuse during childhood, the reasons for entering prostitution never come down to abuse alone - it's always a combination of several factors.
    "In boys, we most often see a combination of sexual abuse and some form of social condemnation. Many of them come from closed and conservative populations, such as the Arab and religious sectors," she says.
    "In these societies, questions of sexual identity will often face social condemnation, and many end up in the streets where prostitution becomes one of the mechanisms of survival."
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    Inbal Faran-Perach: Male sex workers are more at risk
    Inbal Faran-Perach: Male sex workers are more at risk
    Inbal Faran-Perach: Male sex workers are more at risk
    Inbal Faran-Perach, who studies how prostitutes of both genders are treated in the healthcare system, says that male prostitutes tend to contract sexually transmitted diseases more often than their female counterparts.
    "This population has higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, engages more in anal sex and uses fewer condoms, so you see more sexually transmitted diseases," Faran-Perach says.
    Faran-Perach and a colleague founded a group that helps raise awareness and provide health education for male sex workers.
    The group included 73 male prostitutes from northern Israel who were taught about safe sex, nutrition and more, but had to cease operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Male prostitutes who wish to leave the profession find they have much slimmer options than their female counterparts.
    The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare offers a program for youths from all religions, sexes and genders working in prostitution.
    The program provides access to extensive assistance services such as housing, psychiatric support, educational or employment guidance, family therapy and more.
    But just two of the ministry's 13 centers scattered across the country accept males.
    One center in Tel Aviv accepts men and women up to the age of 21, while another center in Haifa offers its services up to the age of 26. Both spaces are open 24/7 and actively try to reach out to youths in distress.
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    Illustrative: Israel will be soon only have one place willing to open its doors to men who want to leave sex work
    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    While there are plenty of programs and organizations aiming to provide aid to female prostitutes over the age of 26, male prostitutes have no such option.
    To make matter worse, the ministry recently announced that its center in Haifa would no longer provide services for males.
    In other words, there will only be one place left in Israel that is willing to open its doors to men who want to leave sex work - and that too only until the age of 21.
    The decision came shortly after the ministry published a report last week regarding the state's actions regarding prostitution, which shows there were no plans for any dedicated services for male sex workers.
    The ministry issued a statement in which it said that "some boys and teens working in prostitution also suffer from addiction and other struggles and are treated in other welfare programs that specialize in treating such cases."
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