As the west slowly begins to ease its coronavirus pandemic lockdown measures, sex workers are having to adapt to new rules and social norms. Many are finding work online, while countless others continue to see clients despite the risks out of sheer financial desperation. Sex workers organizations have asked the government to offer them the same support provided to employees of other industries.
Sex workers in Australia could operate under a COVID-19-safe framework that includes no group sex, limited kissing and limited face-to-face contact with clients, according to their industry association.
The industry has been crippled by bans in all states and territories during the coronavirus pandemic. As other industries are included in road maps for restarting, only the Northern Territory has given clear advice to sex workers on when they can return to work.
In a letter to Health Minister Greg Hunt on Thursday on behalf of strip clubs, escort agencies and brothels around the country, the Eros Association expressed concern that shutting down the sex industry was being “motivated by moral judgments … rather than any justified concerns regarding public health”.
“We write with concern regarding the Commonwealth Government’s plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions, which has not provided any certainty to adult entertainment and sex work service providers,” the letter reads.
“It is the position of Eros that strip clubs, escort agencies and brothels should be allowed to operate (with appropriate restrictions) at the same stage as other body work practitioners such as massage therapists.
“The adult industry is capable of effective self-regulation to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Attached to the letter were proposed guidelines for restarting the industry that included screening clients for risk factors, using non-contact thermometers, providing clients and workers with hand sanitiser, masks gloves and “booties if requested” and banning group sex.
“No group sessions,” the proposal reads. “Oral sex and kissing should be avoided. Workers should avoid touching the face of clients without gloves as much as possible.”
Seating in waiting areas at brothels would be removed, cash transactions would be kept to a minimum and signs would be erected at entry points “informing clients of COVID-19, their obligations and the right of brothels and workers to refuse service”.
Eros’ General Manager Rachel Payne said: “We are a professional industry sector capable of self-regulation” and “these guidelines give consumers and the public confidence that Eros members are doing everything possible to stop the spread of COVID-19”.
Melbourne-based sex worker Estelle Lucas recently expressed frustration at the way sex workers have been treated during the pandemic. She told the BBC that relationships with clients, built over a 10-year period, were being trashed.
“It’s fair to say that if I’m not working for six months, a lot of people are going to forget me,” she said.