Thousands of sex workers infected with coronavirus


Grant Johnson

Dozens of sex workers have been infected with coronavirus in Japan’s biggest red light district sparking fears hundreds of customers may have been infected with the killer disease. Japanese media reports scores of people working the adult industry in the notorious Kabukicho part of Tokyo have been confirmed to have Covid-19.

Meanwhile, in the US, Nevada’s sex workers are among the unemployed after brothels and strip clubs shut down due to coronavirus concerns.

“It’s like any business – it’s going to make a mark,” said legal sex worker Sandi Benks of the closure’s financial impact. “You work so hard when you’re an independent contractor, and it’s just on hold. It’s just bizarre.”

On March 18, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the closure of all non-essential businesses, including bars and strip clubs, and the directive was expanded the following day to include the state’s brothels.

According to a 2012 University of Las Vegas report prepared for the Nevada legislature, there were 12,000 registered strippers in the city alone. Because sex work is not a state-regulated industry, there is no official statewide data on the number of legal sex workers in Nevada.

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Wolsey Mews, is calling on Whitehall to officially recognize sex workers as employees so they can receive financial aid, as the government has done with furloughed workers and the self-employed.

Prostitution is not illegal in the UK but soliciting in a public place, pimping and kerb crawling are.

In a statement, the ECP said: “The virus has thrown millions into crisis.

“For sex workers, forced by criminalization, stigma and discrimination to live in the shadows, that crisis is more hidden.”

As the coronavirus death toll climbs, the ECP says prostitutes continuing to work face risking their own and others’ health.

Despite sex clubs being closed and the practice of high-contact professions being banned to curb the spread of coronavirus Covid-19, many sex workers in the Netherlands are still working, only from home. They have bills to pay and some are not eligible for government social security schemes and emergency funds, Nieuwsuur reports after speaking to sex workers and associations that represent them.

According to media reports, Susanne Bleier Wilp, a German former sex worker and spokeswoman for the Association of Erotic and Sexual Services Providers, or BESD, said the coronavirus has caused fear and uncertainty among the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 sex workers in Germany, where prostitution was largely legalized almost 20 years ago.

“There are those who are withdrawing from the business entirely at the moment for safety reasons,” Bleier Wilp said. Others are requiring that customers disinfect themselves, she added — a measure that medical experts say is unlikely to effectively stop the spread of the virus during close physical contact.

Unlike regular employees, most sex workers won’t benefit directly from the half-trillion-euro package of loans the German government is making available to companies facing ruin because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Sex workers are usually self-employed, not employees,” said Bleier Wilp. “That means they bear all the risks themselves”

Amsterdam’s Prostitution Information Center, which normally offers tours and provides information, has established an emergency fund for sex workers in financial trouble. It is aiming to raise €6,000 ($6,590) and will disburse €40 each to people who apply, to cover basics such as shopping, medicines and phone credits.

Before the closure, Berlin brothel owner Marx acknowledged that the women working at his establishment were hurting financially, though there was no suggestion he might make up the shortfall.


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