Corona crisis reveals weaknesses in the position of sex workers

When contact professions were banned because of corona this spring, this also applied to sex workers. The Verwey-Jonker Institute investigated what this meant for the situation of sex workers in the Hart van Brabant region. How can municipalities better support sex workers in the event of another ban, and what can we learn from this corona crisis about the position of sex workers in the long term?

The research was carried out in collaboration with the Municipality of Tilburg, the largest municipality within the Hart van Brabant region, and the Seksworks focus group, formed by (former) sex workers from Brabant. It is supported by ZonMw within the program line “Science for practice – practical impulses and policy questions”. We investigated how sex workers were doing when they had to leave their activities between 23 March and 1 July. We also looked at their situation when they were allowed to return to work.

Emergency support
Sex workers for whom sex work is the main income have ended up in dire straits, the research showed. They often could not claim emergency aid, even though they did pay taxes. As a result, they had to use their savings and take out loans, among other things. Some sex workers decided to keep working, especially with regular clients. A few of them switched completely to working online during the lockdown.

Since the restart on 1 July, the sex workers in Hart van Brabant have been back to work, but the clientele is not yet at the old level for everyone. Income and mental well-being are also not yet at the level of before corona. Several sex workers say that they have maintained their own measures in contact with customers since the restart. They ask customers for an appointment whether they have complaints, try to meet with fewer customers for longer, or work intensively for a number of days and then rest for a number of days to see whether corona-related complaints arise. Sex workers would have liked the government to also distribute a protocol aimed at safe sex work to educate themselves and clients.

This lockdown period acted as a kind of stress test: many of the bottlenecks outlined have always existed, but are now magnified. Now that the urgency is clear for sex workers, this offers the opportunity to do something about it. The policy advice in our report focuses on the support of sex workers after the lockdown, on the possible situation that sex work will be banned again in the future (as is now the case for sex workers in clubs), and on improving the position of sex workers in the long term.

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Author: Dr. Roos de Wildt

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