Study finds male escorts online increased while laws shut down websites

 

The latest Male Escort Global Survey (MEGS), conducted by QUT’s Professor John Scott and Adjunct Professor Victor Minichiello, has shown an increase in the number of male escorts online since the 2017 survey, in spite of new laws that have shut down many escorting websites in the US and elsewhere.

In brief:

  • Number of escorts online rose from 105,009 to 123,994.
  • Anti sex-trafficking laws in the US shut down major escorting websites, while others have moved to different countries or exploit legal loopholes.
  • Services offered to women and couples continue to rise.

Number crunch: 2018 survey results

Globally, the number of escorts rose from 105,009 to 123,994.

The survey counted 295,194 male escort profiles online worldwide, and while this result is a decrease from the 325,852 profiles found in 2017, the actual number increased when duplicate profiles were eliminated.

A total of 65 countries are included in the 2018 survey, including the addition of Azerbaijan, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Lebanon and Nigeria, with an average of eleven websites per country and an increase from the previous year.

Mexico, Colombia, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Spain were the countries with the highest number of escorts, comprising 74% of the total male escorts.

Some countries had a much higher number of websites listing male escorts than others, with a range from 3 to 42. The number of male escorts increased in 51 countries from the previous survey and decreased in only 7 countries. Countries that reported the biggest increase since the previous survey included: Bulgaria, Colombia, India, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Sri Lanka. Countries with a modest increase included: Canada, China, France, Japan, Philippines, while Brazil and the United States of America reported some of the largest decreases in number of male escorts.

Regionally, South and Central America accounted for the highest numbers (50.9%), followed by Europe (25.1%), North America (17.4%), Asia and the Middle East (5.4%), Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) (1%) and lastly Africa (less than 1%).

South and Central America, Asia and the Middle East accounted for an increase in the total percentage of male escorts globally since 2017, while North American and Europe recorded a decrease.

Using data from the 2017 MEGS survey, Denton and his colleagues estimated that the rate of online sex work among men range from .04 per 100,000 (India) to 88 per 100,000 (Mexico) with a median value of 1.45 per 100,000. Globally, the overall rate was 4.9 online male sex workers per 100,000 adult men.

Our 2018 survey also identified large sites like Escortbg in Bulgaria with more than 20,000 profiles, which were either not available or not captured via our google search in the 2017 survey, significantly increasing the number of escort profiles in that country. Other particularly large websites, such as Mileroticos, which previously focused on a few countries, have added new countries like Colombia and Italy, increasing the number of escort profiles in those countries.

Table 1: 2018 Survey of online male escort estimated numbers by country

Legal changes: new laws shut down major websites and create opportunities 

Changes in the law on website requirements can have a profound impact on the traffic and viability of hosting such material.

For example, two pieces of legislation, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) that passed in the USA since our 2017 survey, have exposed website owners to unclear criminal and legal risks.

This explains the removal or shut down of previously available sites that were hosted in the United States ((Romano, 2018). The following websites have been removed for legal reasons since the last survey: Men4RentNow, Boyscort, Cracker and Backpage.

Of the websites previously operating in the USA in the 2017 survey, 12 were no longer active, and a number of world escort websites no longer include the USA as a listed country.

This may explain the lower numbers of escort profiles found in the USA in 2018 and may in itself be one measure of the impacts of new regulatory environments which have emerged since our last survey.

Other websites such as Connect2Men and sex workers, have transferred their operation from the USA to other countries, where laws are more favourable to their business (Farokhmanesh, 2018).

Not surprisingly, the survey found a number of USA websites now include a message that mentions recent changes in the law and divert the user to a company outside the USA.

Changes in the website agreement contract with users, such as verification of identification and authentication information required from escorts or introduction of membership fees, can have an impact on the volume of escort profiles or client usage of the site. For example, some of the websites, like Mx.mileroticos in Mexico and Vivalocal in Brazil, changed its verification and/or photo requirements, significantly reducing the overall number of profiles for those countries: from over 21,091 in 2017 to over 5,000 in 2018 for Brazil and from over 121,000 in 2017 to over 82,000 for Mexico in 2018.

Mincing words to exploit loopholes

While some countries are being affected by laws pushing escorting off social media platforms, other entrepreneurs and/or countries are developing new products to respond to the legal challenges or seizing new or displaced market opportunities.

For example, two newer websites have used legal language to promote their service. Mintboys states that they follow the ‘Las Vegas model’ where customers pay for time with an escort and add the statement that ‘prostitution is illegal and we do not allow our escorts and clients to use this site for that purpose’. As they explain in ‘their story blog’:

‘It’s a tumultuous time for the industry. Federal authorities have shut down Backpage. Craighlist has shuttered its personal sections. Men4RentNow, RentHotAngels and other sites have shut down voluntarily, anticipating a government crackdown. Everyone wants to know what comes next in the aftermath of SESTA and FOSTA. MintBoys is ‘what comes next’. It’s the safe space where clients and escorts can return, and the result of years of careful planning. Despite the sudden passage of SESTA/FOSTA, and the uncertainty it’s created, we believe MintBoys remains uniquely positioned to thrive in a rapidly evolving illegal environment.’

New initiatives, such as SafeHosting.co explicitly cater for those who are: ‘worried about potential Sesta/Fosta problems for sites hosted in the USA.’  FriendBoy, a new site operating from The Netherlands, states that, ‘everything is very simple and easy on FriendBoy’, implying that it is better or legally more secure than Rent Boy (a website closed down by USA authorities) or Rent Men.

Laws can also impact on how sexual services are described. For example, the anti-prostitution laws in South Korea have created loopholes for male sex workers to work in the health and fitness sector as ‘male masseurs’. Searching for ‘yeoseong massage’ allows you to find men offering massage options to clients, including ‘Course C’ that includes the use of adult sex toys (Lee & Gee-hyun, 2015).

Services to women and couples rise again

Overall, countries reported an increase from the previous survey in the number of male escorts for men and number of male escorts for women and couples.

Like the results of the previous survey, male clientele is the primary market for male escorts. Table 1 (see above) shows that the majority of the escorts catered to gay or men who have sex with customers. However, the figures have declined from 68% to 61%.

The number of male escorts that advertised their services to women and couples rose from 32, 948 to 47,975 and the overall global percentage of male escorts catering to this group rose from 31.4% in 2017 to 38.7% in 2018.

The top ten countries with the largest number of male escorts for women and couples were in order: Columbia (11,937), Mexico (9,039), the United States (7,722), the United Kingdom (3,722), Bulgaria (2,696), Spain (2,258), Italy (1,928), The Netherlands (1,612), Brazil (1,316), and Belgium (810). Seven of these countries also featured as the top countries for male escorts for women and couples in 2017.

Again, Latin American and European countries feature prominently on the list, accounting for 47.6% and 30.1%, or, when combined, more than two thirds of all male escorts for women and couples globally. North America came next with 16.4%.

The results also reveal that 17 countries had more male escorts seeking female and couple clients than male escorts seeking male clients exclusively. Of these, the top 10 countries with the highest percentage of escorts for women and couples included: Sri Lanka (92.3%), Uganda (88.6%), Kenya (84.7%), Uruguay (76.7%), Argentina (69.5%), El Salvador (67.7%), The Netherlands (66.9%), Cyprus (62.5%), Belgium (61.6%) and Italy (61.3%).

2018 Megs Survey, % male escorts offering services to women and couples

Contextual notes

Sometimes, terminology about sexual identity is influenced by cultural and sexual norms around masculinity (Minichiello et al 2014).

For example, many of the websites in South America target both a male and female clientele rather than an exclusive gay market, with websites as a matter of routine providing information on whether the services are offered to ‘attendemos homens, mulheres e casais’, ele, ela & casais’ or ‘atención a hombres, mujeres y parejas’.

In other parts of the world, such as the United Arab Emirates or African countries, how much information is provided by the escort about their sexual identity is influenced by law since homosexual activity is not legal and the law does not reference any protections against discrimination on the basis of sexuality (see for example, http://www.equaldex.com/region/united-arab-emirates).

The survey is again measuring the number of ‘available services’ rather than ‘actual demand’ or ‘usage’ of that service.

The best indicator of demand is a measure that records and counts paid clients or a specific request for a service by a client via a booking, and across a number of different spaces where sex work operates. But such a measurement is difficult to operationalise in the field for obvious ethical factors and/or willingness by escorts or clients to overtly share such information with researchers, and the general reluctance of these two groups to participate in such studies.

As we acknowledged in our earlier blog, online escorting is only one venue and aspect of the sex industry (Scott et al., 2017), and therefore in itself does not offer an accurate or full picture of the sex work workforce.

Others have also discussed some of the methodological and ethical issues and obstacles associated with counting the profiles of online escort profiles and advertisements (Sanders et al, 2018), and protocols that can ensure greater accuracy when collecting such data (Denton et al 2019; Minichiello et al 2019).

Finally, we excluded countries where we found that there were 10 or fewer escorts. Exclusions from the previous survey because of this criteria included Croatia, Jamaica and Paraguay.

References

Callander, D., Harrington, T., Scott, J., DeVeau, R., Minichiello, V. (2019), ‘Male sex work online’, In P. Maginn, E. Cooper, M. Zebracki, (eds), Navigating Sex Work in the 21st Century: Gender, Justice and Policy. Palgrave MacMillan, UK.

Equaldex. 2018. LGBT rights in United Arab countries. http://www.equaldex.com/region/united-arab-emirates, accessed 22 October 2018.

Farokhmansh, M. (2018). ‘Amid FOSTA crackdown, sex workers find refuge on Mastodon’. The Verge, https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/11/17188772/trump-sesta-fosta-bill-switter-sex-workers-mastodon, accessed 20 October 2018.

Lee, C., Gee-hyun, S. (2015), ‘Exposing ‘invisible’ male sex workers in South Korea’, The Korea Herald, http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20151108000311, accessed 1 July 2018.

Minichiello, V., Dune, T., Disogra, C., Marino, R. (2014). ‘Male sex work from Latin American perspectives’. In V. Minichiello, J. Scott (eds), Male Sex Work & Society. New York: Harrington Park Press.

Minichiello, V., Scott, J., Grov, C., Bimbi, D., Callander, D., Harrington, T. (2019). ‘The male sex work landscape’. In J. Scott, D. Bimbi, C. Grov, V. Minichiello (eds), Male Sex Work & Society (Vol 2): From Contemporary Perspectives to Emerging Trends. New York: Harrington Park Press, in press.

Romano, A. (2018). ‘A new law intended to curb sex trafficking threatens the future of the internet as we know it’. Vox,
https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/4/13/17172762/fosta-sesta-backpage-230-internet-freedom, accessed 1 July 2018.

Sanders, T., Campbell, R., Cunningham, S., Pitcher, J., Scoular, J. (2018). ‘The point of counting: mapping the internet based sex industry’. Social Sciences, 7(5):233-241.

Scott, J., Minichiello, V., Callander, D., Harrington, T. (2017). ‘Research shows distribution of online male escorts, by nation’. QUT About Male Escorting, https://research.qut.edu.au/aboutmaleescorting/2017/11/01/number-of-online-male-escorts-by-nation-2/, accessed 19 October 2018.

About the survey

The 2018 Male Escort Global Survey (MEGS) was undertaken from March to May 2018. It follows the 2017 MEGS, using a similar methodology and verifying the 2017 website list as well as searching for new websites.

A printable version of the table, which also indicates whether numbers have increased, decreased or remained the same since 2017 is available below:

About the bloggers

Professors John Scott and Victor Minichiello are sociologists who work at the School of Justice in the Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology.

Dr Denton Callander and Taylor Harrington, from the Kirby Institute at University of New South Wales, helped collect and analyse the data.

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