Because of quarantines, social distancing, governments’ neglect of the poor, systemic racism in all walks of life including healthcare, failure to protect children from abuse, and the predation of sex buyers and pimps – the coronavirus pandemic threatens already-marginalized women’s ability to survive. Social distancing rules in place and strip clubs and brothels closed, sex workers around the world have seen their incomes disappear almost overnight as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Reduced access to healthcare services is an issue facing sex workers globally, according to Prof Sanders. The problem is particularly acute in areas where there is high demand for regular antiviral drugs from those living with HIV.
Prostitutes from all around the world have been taking to the streets to demand the lifting of a coronavirus-related ban on sex work. Many of them are from eastern Europe or poor countries and can no longer send money home to their families .
Billions of women in Africa, South Asia and parts of Latin America and the Caribbean have erratic work and live on the margins with no social safety net . These women are at high risk for both coronavirus and entry into prostitution. A South African survivor of prostitution explained that no one would willingly “take on a job where their life is guaranteed to be at risk” . Poor women in Scotland and Germany do not have the option to quarantine at home . Some women may be forced to “choose” between COVID-19 exposure and their family’s starvation. Recommended practices for avoiding the COVID-19 virus are impossible.
The German Union for Erotic and Sexual Service Providers (BeSD) has called protests in several German cities against the state-wide ban on selling sexual services, introduced in March. Maria , who works in a “big brothel” in the large western German city of Cologne, has been one of the regular participants.
Women in the sex trade are in harm’s way for many reasons including a lack of food, shelter, and healthcare, all of which increase their risk of contracting COVID19. Understanding what it’s like to be anxious about access to food and shelter is key to understanding the risks taken by people in prostitution. Knowing they were risking their lives, many women prostituted during the pandemic.
Sex work is legal in Germany but was banned when the government brought in widespread restrictions on civil and public life in a bid to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Since August Bavaria has been permitting sexual services again, but brothels still have to stay closed — and Berlin will permit some sexual services again starting August 8. But in the rest of the country the ban on prostitution remains in place, although restrictions on spas, tattoo studios and wellness-massages have mostly been lifted. Around 65% of Germany’s estimated 400,000 sex workers are migrants, according to the sex-worker-run European Network for the Promotion of Rights and Health among Migrant Sex Workers . Many of the migrant sex workers are women who travel from poorer eastern European countries within the EU such as Romania and Bulgaria, like Elena.
The women leave their home countries where there are fewer job opportunities and incomes are low. According to a TAMPEP survey in 2019, they send most of their earnings back home to support their families.
Sex work “remains a practical solution” for migrant Romanian Escorts who face language barriers or lack of professional training, the network states.
Unable or unwilling to access state benefits, some sex workers are continuing to work despite the coronavirus ban just to support themselves, says BeSD spokeswoman Schulze.
They take risks like going to their clients’ apartments or other hidden places, where clients may take advantage and hurt them or refuse to pay. Working illegally, the sex workers are less likely to call the police for help in a dangerous situation out of fear that they might be fined .