To: Members of the Vanguard Project
Advisory Committee
From: Andrew Sorfleet,
the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver
Date: May 15, 1995

Re: Section I: "Paid Sex"

I was invited to sit on the advisory committee to help recruit respondents from within the sex industry. My membership on the advisory committee implies that the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver endorses the Vanguard study, and in particular Section I: "Paid Sex." Upon reflection and discussion with my colleagues I have come to the conclusion that this study is seriously flawed and that such an endorsement would be a great disservice to men working in the sex industry. Here are my reasons why.

Judging from the questionnaire, the Vanguard Project -- a study of gay and bisexual men 18 to 30-years old, accompanied with an annual HIV antibody test -- is designed to determine means of infection with, or transmission of HIV, either before or during the study. For the most part its a study of people's sexual (and needle-using) practices.

Within this context, having a section on paid sex might have been able to determine that people are more likely to practice safer sex when a commercial transaction is involved. This would have been the only beneficial outcome for male sex workers participating in this study since commercial transactions themselves present no risk of HIV infection. HIV doesn't travel on money.

Section I: "Paid Sex" is unable to accomplish even this because it doesn't distinguish between people who self-identify as sex workers and those who have had casual commercial sex encounters: "For the purposes of this study, we are defining 'paid sex' in the following way" 'Paid sex includes sex exchanged for money, drugs, goods, clothing, shelter or protection" This loose definition of "paid sex" allows the category of people responding to be very broad, but the results of this section of the survey will affect the few who are visible as sex workers.

Section I of the survey is only capable of determining how many people who have "ever in their life-time" traded sex for something are infected with HIV and whether their sex practices (commercial or otherwise) could be transmitting HIV to their partners. It would only inaccurately identify a specific group (male sex workers) who are possibly spreading HIV to the "general population."

To add insult to injury, Section I asks the question "Have you every been paid more to have unsafe sex?" This question puts the onus entirely on the prostitute. It doesn't ask, for instance, "Has anyone ever offered you more money to have unsafe sex?" There is no comparable question aimed at the client such as, "Have you ever offered someone more money to have unsafe sex?" From all of this I can only conclude that Section I is based on the assumption that people who have sex for money do so only out of desperation -- desperation for money that overrides their personal concerns for their health. This is offensive.

The Vanguard Project promotional pamphlet states that "The results of the Vanguard Project will have very important implications for the community. Why? Because the results of this type of research directly affect public policy. For instance, an accurate picture of HIV infection rates influences decision-making on the distribution of government funds for health care and AIDS education." For male prostitutes that's partly why this study is so dangerous. A study that concluded that male prostitutes were possibly spreading HIV could possibly result in forced HIV testing for all persons convicted of prostitution-related offenses. Those who test positive could be held under public health legislation.

This scenerio may seem far-fetched and draconian but similar situation have arisen in the past. In a court transcript dated July 13, 1987, Judge W.P. Ross of the Ontario Provincial Court said to woman charged with "communicating for the purpose of prostitution," "I am going to postepone sentencing to allow you to attend the physician of your choice and ask them to preform the test for and including anyu of the social diseases -- gonorrhea, syphilis, and AIDS. you will have that blood test done before sentencing."

In March of 1990, Dr. Richard Schabas, then the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario, attempted to pass legislation that would have reclassified HIV allowing public health officials to quarantine prostitutes who were HIV positive and continued to work. And as recently as as March of 1994, police in London, Ontario forced hustlers they were interrogating (in relation to the "kiddie" porn investigation) to take HIV tests. To quote a hustler from the CBC Radio Ideas program The Trials of London (aired May 11, 1995), "The cops told me if I didn't come down to the station they would send an officer to my house and they would hold me down..." Such decision would devastate the rights gained and help by people living with HIV in British Columbia.

There is a long tradition of scapegoating prostitutes for the spread of disease and in particular HIV. This scapegoating has led to brutal violence against prostitutes by whore bashers, residents' groups, and police. Male prostitutes are stigmatized both for having queer sex and for having sex for money. We are visible and easy to locate, either on the street or through newspaper advertisements.

If this study releases a report suggesting that there are HIV-positive prostitutes who are having unsafe sex for money it will lead to increased violence against male prostitutes. It will lead to further police harassment and infringements of our human rights.

Rather than contributing to this environment of hate, why doesn't the Vanguard Project collect data that could determine whether male prostitutes are knowledgeable about the routes of HIV transmission, whether HIV prevention information targeted at them is effective, or whether they adhere to the safer sex practices they know about? I hope at least the Vanguard Project will remove Section I: "Paid Sex" from the questionaire, or failing that, not analyze or publish any data that it collects.

For reasons stated above, I will discourage male prostitutes from participating in the Vanguard Project in its current form or at least to refrain from completing Section: I "Paid Sex." For these reasons also I am resigning from the Vanguard Project advisory committee.


Andrew Sorfleet
for the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver

P.S. I also fail to see the relevance of including a section on sexual abuse when none of the questions specifically address activities where HIV infection might have occurred. Surely it is more useful to ask people whether they had a history of other sexually transmitted diseases or of use of antibiotics.


Vanguard Project Advisory Committee
al-Qamar Sangha, Atish HIV/AIDS Network
Bill Coleman, ATEC & PFAME
Chris Buchner, YouthCo
Marc Mertens, YouthCo
Vincent Charles, YouthCo
Christopher Sands, Healing Our Spirit
Vancouver Native Health
David Richardson, Xtra! West
Henry Koo, Man to Man, AIDS Vancouver
Ian Gardner, Black AIDS Network
Ken Steffenson, Gay & Lesbian Centre
Mary-Lou Miller, Bute Street Clinic
Rodney Kort, Health Promotion Project


[SWAV Letters] [Rights Groups]

Created: August 2, 1996
Last modified: March 6, 1999

SWAV Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710