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Male sex workers see rape and sexual assault as "par for the course", according to a leading charity, while experts say we still don't know the full extent of the problem.

Beyond the Gaze, a new academic study into internet-based sex work to be published in the new year, found that more than 12 per cent of sex workers had been sexually assaulted in the past five years.

But Professor Teela Sanders - co-author of the study and director of research and professor of criminology at the University of Leicester - said that 12 per cent is an "under-estimate".

She told indy100:

With all reporting of sexual offences this is likely to be an under-estimate and only reflect those in our sample, which was internet based sex workers. 

There are likely to be many more groups of men who sell/sway sex who are working in transactional and occasional ways who may not even define themselves as sex workers, but are at risk of experiencing sexual violence and other crimes.

Hayley Speed, who works for Manchester-based charity The Men's Room, one of only a few charities in the UK that supports male sex workers, told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme that sex workers didn't take sexual assaults and rapes seriously, and rather saw them as "[par for] the course".

She explained:

'Oh God, I got raped the other night.' Like they got wet from it raining. That normalisation of quite extreme behaviours.

It is estimated there are around 100,000 sex workers in the UK - up from an estimated 70,000 in 2016 - and it is believed that 20% are male.

In England, Scotland and Wales, sex work is legal, but soliciting in a public place, kerb-crawling, owning or managing a brothel or forcing someone into sex work against their will is all against the law.

Despite that, it is estimated that around 5% of male sex workers operate on the street.

Ms Speed also told the BBC that a major problem for male sex workers is child exploitation:

When we speak to sex workers about when they first got involved in sex work, the phrase we hear most often is, 'I started when I was 14 or 15'

That's not sex work, that's child exploitation.

Police say that male rape and sexual assault on a whole is underreported and urged victims to come forward.

Those who are too scared or unable to turn to the police are also encouraged to contact male rape and sexual abuse charity SurvivorsUK for guidance and support.

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