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Estimating transgender persons’ involvement in sex work in Europe

Van Schuylenbergh, J1; T'Sjoen, G1; Motmans, J1

1: Ghent Univeristy Hospital, Belgium

Objectives. Rates for involvement in sex work have been estimated high and varied for transgender persons: studies show rates between 15% (Bauer & Hammond, 2015) and 67% (Wilson et al., 2009). Research shows that discrimination of transgender persons on the labor market facilitates engagement in sex work. However, studies on transgender sex work have been mainly US-based, focused on transgender women, and based on a binary gender perspective. European research in this area is scarce. This study aims to investigate transgender sex work involvement in 6 European countries (Belgium, Georgia, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Sweden) for transgender women (TW), transgender men (TM) and gender non-binary persons (GNB).

Material and methods. A descriptive and bivariate analysis of data from the TGEU Trans Health Survey (2017) and data from the Trans in Belgium survey (2017) is carried out to estimate lifetime involvement in sex work as well as during the past 12 months prior to the survey, as well as their motivations to be active in sex work. Results. Overall lifetime involvement in sex work was 6,8% in this sample (N=1419), with a significant difference between TW (11,5%), TM (3,5%) and GNB (5%) groups (X²(2)=26,612; p<0,001). Of all transgender persons ever involved in sex work, 39,4% was involved in sex work during the last 12 months, for which significant differences were also found between TW (5%), TM (1,8%) and GNB (1,5%) groups (X²(2)=11,693; p<0,01). More than half (51,1%) of the transgender persons ever involved in sex work state that they used sex work to earn additional income, whereas 18,1% was involved in sex work to earn their living. Of all transgender persons ever involved in sex work, 35% engaged in sex work because of lack of other opportunities.

Conclusion. Though involvement in sex work seems to be lower in this study than in previous research, there is indeed a high involvement of transgender women in sex work in Europe, compared to for instance cisgender females, for whom involvement in sex work has been estimated between 0,4 and 1,4% in Europe (Vandepitte et al., 2006). However, transgender men and non-binary persons also engage in sex work. Research and health interventions should not only focus on transgender women when addressing sexual risk behavior and sex work. Furthermore, financial motives seem to be important reasons for involvement in sex work. As such, policies should target discrimination on the labor market for transgender persons.


Work supported by industry: no.

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