No financial support during Covid-19
SEX workers have been left facing homelessness and hunger due to the impact of Covid-19, sparking calls for the government to provide more assistance.
Australia’s peak body for sex workers, the Scarlet Alliance, says the precarious nature of the industry and the need for workers to protect their privacy and those of loved ones, is making it difficult for workers to access economic relief.
The alliance says it has made formal approaches to the Morrison government seeking support and consultation, but has been roundly rebuffed.
“We are experiencing a complete failure of government to engage with sex worker organisations,” says Respect Inc coordinator Elena Jeffreys.
Dr Jeffreys has been a sex worker for the last two decades and advocates for workers’ rights.
She said visa holders and international students working in the sex industry were ineligible for support under the stimulus packages because they “cannot demonstrate their earnings for fear of discrimination or criminalisation”.
“Sex workers who in the first few weeks of the pandemic were using up any savings, are now without income,” says Dr Jeffreys.
Sex industry regulation varies between states; in WA prostitution is legal, but heavily restricted under criminal law.
WA sex worker support project manager Lena Van Hale says WA’s legislation excluded sex workers from broader industrial and civil laws designed to stamp out exploitation in the workforce.
“We have to choose between being fined and criminalised or having our families and ourselves be homeless and hungry,” says NSW Sex Workers Outreach Project CEO Cameron Cox.
WA’s Department of Communities acknowledged there was little help available for sex workers, with a spokesperson saying there was “no visibility or any policies specific for sex workers”.
This lack of visibility and exclusion from social support services is being felt by sex workers globally.
According to a UNAIDS press statement issued earlier last month: “Sex worker-led organisations from all regions are reporting a lack of access to national social protection schemes and exclusion from emergency social protection measures being put in place for other workers.”
Along with the World Health Organisation, UNAIDs has previously backed decriminalising of the sex industry to manage the spread of HIV/AIDS, and says the same goes for Covid-19.
“The criminalisation of various aspects of sex work in the majority of countries serves to magnify the already precarious situation of sex workers in the informal economy,” it said in the statement.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations CEO Darryl O’Donnell says; “sex workers take public health extremely seriously and have been at the forefront of efforts to slow and prevent the spread of conditions such as HIV, hepatitis C and other STIs.
“It’s time for government to now support them through this very difficult period by providing robust income support in a time of crisis.”
One brothel madam revealed how she’d ordered her girls to offer only “doggy, on top or handjobs” to try and prevent Covid-19 infections, but shortly afterwards the industry was completely shut down by the McGowan government’s strict social distancing rules.
Dr Jeffreys wants to know; “who is listening to sex workers? Why are we at the end of the list when it comes to our workplace health and safety, our welfare, our income, or respect and recognition for the work we do?”
The Scarlet Alliance and its state and territory member organisations have turned to the public for support.
An emergency support fund has been set up with donations going directly to sex workers in need.
Secure donations to this fund can be made at: https://chuffed. org/project/emergency-support-sex-workers-australia
“This will not be enough to meet the demand but will assist in bridging the gap until essential government support is provided,” the Alliance said.