Male sex worker lunch panel session: Getting the Job Done: male sex workers on research about their community and the gap between studies and understanding.

Date: Thursday, 31 March 2016
Time: 1.15 pm – 1.45 pm
Location: Seminar Room 1

The recognition of meaningful participation of key affected communities in Australia's response to BBVs is not only highly effective and successful, it informs the culture of many of the sector's organisations to be more inclusive, particularly of those who experience intersecting marginalisation. Scarlet Alliance has an elected male sex worker representative and deputy within its governance structure. These roles work with male sex workers across the country, including some that are peer educators in our member organisations. We demonstrate that, though we may be a subsection of the broader sex worker community, we are as active in all levels of organisational work-organisational governance, management, service delivery, volunteering, etc, and that our work achieves so much more having been inclusive of our community's diversity in relevant, respectful, and self-determined ways.

Male sex workers are an attractive research subject, but our lived experience is often not reflected in research findings. It is unsurprising, then, that progress toward good policy is often slow if not absent, and, unfortunately, negative outcomes and a misguided public perception of male sex workers is often the result. Scarlet Alliance believes that sex workers, including male sex workers, are the greatest authority when it comes to our work, and that we have the capacity to provide expert consultation to guide and inform research. Yet, we are rarely included in the research process. We seldom hear about instances of significant inclusion, engagement or consultation with our community prior to the development of research aims regarding male sex work in Australia. Nor do we have many examples of collaborative engagement or partnership throughout the research process. This results in lower quality research outcomes and a rudimentary understanding of male sex workers that has not significantly progressed over time. Other consequences include the increased stigmatisation, marginalisation and misunderstanding of male sex work generally, leading to policy and service delivery not meeting our community's need.

While male sex workers have often cooperated with researchers to date, there is an increasing consciousness in our community of the imbalance of the benefits to this relationship. Unless we act to correct the trajectory of this dynamic between researchers and male sex workers, missed opportunities to contribute important knowledge about male sex work to these processes and inform policy and strategies will continue into the future.

Male Sex workers, their elected peer representatives, peer educators, and individual community members have an extraordinary potential to inform and guide good research in Australia. Male sex workers in Australia have strong community connections and long peer education histories. It is negligent to continue to ignore this valuable resource.

Male sex workers, male sex worker peer educators and our representative sex worker organisations should be significantly included in research projects regarding male sex work at all stages.
Researchers and research institutions should assist facilitation of such voices to influence HIV and STI policy directions.