Covid-19 pandemic spells bad business for sex workers as more people avoid physical contact

A sex worker waiting for clients in the red light district of Amsterdam. — AFP pic
A sex worker waiting for clients in the red light district of Amsterdam. — AFP pic

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PETALING JAYA, March 13 — Sex workers around the world are bracing themselves for tough times during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen more than 125,000 confirmed cases and 4,600 deaths so far.

A 30-year-old stripper from Toronto, Canada named Andrea Werhun told VICE that many sex workers were “freaking out” as the outbreak was leading to a drop in face-to-face appointments and fewer clients at the clubs.

The pandemic also presents several risks to sex workers like Werhun, who often come into close physical contact with several people while on the job.

“I feel like my career as a dancer is in jeopardy as it becomes increasingly less viable to hang out in crowds, which is kind of what I do every Friday and Saturday night in order to make money,” she said.

According to Werhun, the clientele at strip clubs consist mostly of businessmen and the cancellation of work trips by several US companies means fewer customers and fewer tips for dancers.

As a dancer, Werhun doesn’t have a steady salary, benefits, or sick days, and so far there have been no measures implemented at the club she’s working at to screen customers for Covid-19 symptoms.

“I’m not screening my clients at the club for whether they’ve been to epidemic hotspots around the world.

“I don’t know if they’ve been to Iran, China, or Italy,” she said, adding that she was going to be “extra militant” about making her clients wash their hands and use hand sanitiser.

Strip clubs in the US and Canada have been seeing a noticeable fall in clientele as more people practice ‘social distancing’ during the virus outbreak. — Unsplash pic
Strip clubs in the US and Canada have been seeing a noticeable fall in clientele as more people practice ‘social distancing’ during the virus outbreak. — Unsplash pic

The same dilemma is plaguing the sex industry in Antwerp, Belgium where Violett, an organisation offering social and medical support to sex workers, has been receiving multiple queries about health risks on the job.

“We are receiving more questions about health risks, both from the prostitutes and their clients. 

“Of course there should be intimacy, that’s the essence of sexual services and this can hardly be avoided. 

“However, we do advise against kissing. And sex workers who are not feeling 100 per cent should stay at home,” Violett coordinator Wendy Gabriëls told VRT’s Radio 2 channel.

Despite the outbreak, some sex workers have found a way to survive even as countries like Italy and Denmark go under lockdown.

Taylor Stevens, a 29-year-old cam model based in Toronto and Las Vegas, told VICE that she hasn’t seen a dip in her viewer numbers.

In fact, she’s noticed a spike in her Italian clients and increased competition from other cam models as more sex workers go online to make an income during the pandemic.

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