Sex workers reveal 'devastating impact' of coronavirus shutdown

Penny Burfitt
Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
Industry insiders fear sex workers will be left behind amid the coronavirus shutdown. Photo: Getty Images

Experts have revealed sex workers could be at risk of ‘slipping through the cracks’ as the government’s latest coronavirus measures come into effect.

Among the many services shut down in Australia’s latest measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 are adult entertainment venues, or sex work locations.

Now sex workers have been forced to get creative as physical services are closed down.

Mature Aussie sex worker Taylor Tara tells Yahoo Lifestyle says she is already looking for alternative work, as her income could dry up completely under the latest measures.

“I’m looking for work because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Taylor says. 

“I’m doing very little [usual] work at the moment. I’m taking on no new clients whatsoever and I’m only taking on ones that I’ve been seeing over the years.”

Experts recommend all in-person services be halted where possible.

Stigma holding sex workers back

Taylor says she is concerned for women less open about their profession than she is. Photo: Supplied

She says she is concerned that sex workers will struggle to access unemployment benefits due to the stigma still facing the industry. 

“I think at the moment every industry is in as much jeopardy, it’s just harder for the sex workers to actually get payouts or funding because people don’t know,” she says.

“There are so many in the mature age bracket that are too scared to risk people knowing what they do.”

It’s a fear shared by experts and industry bodies.

Cameron Cox, CEO of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), says many sex workers are non-citizens who won’t be able to access Centrelink.

“The government payment doesn’t cover non-residents and there will be quite a number of sex workers who fall through the cracks,” he says.

Those inside the industry fears sex workers could be forgotten in the coronavirus shutdown. Photo: Getty Images

The Australian Sex Workers Association (the Scarlet Alliance), SWOP and other industry bodies have called for adequate crisis support for sex workers now at risk.

“Many sex workers are currently excluded from the stimulus packages announced by the government,” they said in a joint statement

“We urge the government to provide adequate means of crisis support for all sex workers. Like other Australians, sex workers have been devastatingly impacted by coronavirus.”

Unstable status leaves no safety net

As brothels are closed, the already-precarious employment status of sex workers has taken a dire turn. Photo: Getty Images

It’s not just access to benefits that is creating a unique problem for the industry, but also a notoriously unstable employment status at the best of times.

Dr Alice Orchiston is a lecturer at the University of NSW and an expert in sex industry law who says many sex workers are employed under a precarious status, meaning they can often be left without any safety net.

“Many sex workers have no savings or superannuation to draw upon in a crisis like this,” she says, adding many are treated as contractors by employers despite fitting the criteria of full-time permanent employees.

“As a result, these workers are often underpaid, do not receive superannuation, and don’t receive anything from their employer if they are stood down [or] dismissed,” she says.

It’s a sentiment reiterated by the collective statement from industry bodies.

“For the majority of sex workers, we have had incomes diminish or stop completely, without access to sick pay, annual leave or superannuation,” they say.

Taylor says that with brothels now shut down, many of her former co-workers have had their lifeline cut.

“For a lot of them that one place [brothels] is the only place for them,” she says.

The Scarlet Alliance has set up a fund for sex workers unable to access benefits or turn to alternative work, you can donate here.

Meanwhile, other industries are also being rattled by the virus, with teachers recently revealing their fears over hygiene standards as schools are kept open amid the pandemic.

Experts warn, however, that maintaining mental health amid the panic is vital, with one expert sharing her top tips for balancing necessary precautions with all-out anxiety and depression.

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