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Commentary Human Rights

Here’s How You Can Help Sex Workers During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Tiffany Diane Tso

The coronavirus outbreak has been particularly harmful for sex workers experiencing cancellations, job loss, and lost income—not to mention the risk of infection.

For continuing coverage of how COVID-19 is affecting reproductive health, check out our Special Report.  

As the number of COVID-19 infections in the United States grows rapidly, nightclubs and bars have shut down, public health officials have ordered people to “socially distance,” the stock market has tanked, and sex workers have begun to see negative impacts of the pandemic.

“I haven’t gotten any customers, so I’ve been cutting down on food,” Maya Moreno, a sex worker based in Brooklyn, New York, told Rewire.News. “A few people canceled because of flights, but I’m also not getting the amount of people reaching out like I used to.”

Moreno is shifting her focus to her OnlyFans account, a paid subscription content service, amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Sex workers run a higher risk of virus transmission, as many jobs—like stripping, escorting, and massage work—require in-person gatherings and physical intimacy. The public health crisis has also meant lost incomes and a decimation of their industry. Strip clubs closed. Massage parlors closed. Online, sex workers across the country have shared updates about cancellations and declines in business. Those with access are moving online to subscription services like OnlyFans and camming, or shifting to other industries altogether.

Sex workers are usually self employed or independent contractors, and thus not eligible for unemployment benefits when out of a job. And there is no knowing how long it will take for the industry to bounce back, given the forecasted economic recession.

Here are a few ways you can help sex workers right now.

Donate money and supplies

Sex workers and advocates have set up emergency relief fundraisers in cities like New York, Detroit, Portland, and Las Vegas. Other sex workers’ rights organizations in specific localities, as well as online, are raising funds too.

  • Lysistrata: online sex worker mutual care collective
  • Red Canary Song: advocate group for Asian and migrant sex workers in New York City
  • SWOP Behind Bars: nonprofit providing community support for incarcerated sex workers
  • Green Light Project: Seattle-based harm reduction outreach group for street-based sex workers
  • Bay Area Workers Support: Bay Area-based sex worker resource organization
  • Coyote RI: Rhode Island-based sex worker advocacy grassroots organization

More comprehensive lists of emergency relief fundraisers can be found here and here, including international efforts.

Some groups, like Coyote RI and SWOP Brooklyn, are seeking donations of supplies. SWOP Behind Bars accepts book donations for incarcerated sex workers and those who will be released soon.

Support decriminalization and fight FOSTA-SESTA

Sex work advocates across the country are pushing for the decriminalization of sex work.

One way to support the sex worker community is by opposing legislation that hurts their livelihoods and safety, like FOSTA-SESTA. The bill package, which consists of the U.S. Senate’s Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the U.S. House of Representatives’ counterpart, Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), has been responsible for the removal of content pertaining to sex work from websites like Craigslist, Tumblr, Reddit, and others. Screening platforms for sex workers like VerifyHim limited their offerings. Sex workers have reported being de-platformed from their social media accounts and payment processors as a result.

The realities of FOSTA-SESTA are that sex workers are pushed onto the streets, where they are more vulnerable to trafficking, violence, and sexually transmitted infections. One free way to support sex workers is to learn about, rally against, and reach out to lawmakers about legislation that harms the community.

Other legislation like “walking while trans” anti-prostitution loitering laws disproportionately target transgender women of color.

Pay tribute to providers and subscribe

Instead of streaming free porn, which was likely taken from its creators, try to be an ethical porn consumer and pay for subscriptions to providers’ channels. When possible, send money directly through payment processors like Venmo or Cash App. Often, independent providers like dominatrixes will provide wish lists and accept tributes from their clients or anyone who wants to contribute.

Share resources

Donating old devices or sharing your technological wherewithal can be helpful for sex workers trying to transition to digital work. Sex workers have been sharing tips and providing open resources for making money online.

Demand the release of incarcerated people

As a highly criminalized community, sex workers are disproportionately likely to enter into the criminal justice system and be incarcerated. As COVID-19 spreads, people incarcerated in jails, prisons, and ICE detention centers are at serious risk of infection. Abolitionist activists across the country have called on Congress and local officials to #FreeThemAll.

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