A lot has been written about the negative effects of COVID-19 across a variety of industries.
But how is the pandemic affecting Australian sex workers?
COVID-19 has devastated the sex industry, resulting in an unprecedented loss of work for Australian sex workers.
Australian sex workers association, Scarlet Alliance says, “The impact of travel restrictions, business closures, self-isolation and quarantine requirements have resulted in a massive loss of work and income for Australian sex workers.”
“As a workforce, sex workers are predominantly a mixture of precarious workers and the self-employed, being independent escorts who work in or for sex industry businesses, or sole traders who work independently for themselves. As such, sex workers are particularly marginalized in terms of the impact of the coronavirus, and many will still be excluded from the stimulus packages announced by the government.”
This is pretty ironic considering less than six months ago, while the Australian government took weeks to respond to the bushfire crisis, sex workers stepped up, leveraging their online presences, rallying their followers and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to help with fire relief efforts.
Scarlet Alliance has set up an emergency fund for sex workers and we encourage you to donate what you can.
We spoke to Vivienne Black, a private escort and escort coach located in Sydney, about how COVID-19 is affecting her livelihood and what she’s doing to help lift other workers up during this time.
Australian escort coach - Vivienne Black
Is COVID-19 affecting your businesses and the ability to work?
Yes. COVID-19 has unfortunately impacted almost everyone in the broader sex work community. The majority of sex workers, particularly those that do not have an already established online presence, are finding the adjustment to lockdown harsh. Many of us are worried about how long we’ll be out of work. Remember, sex workers don’t get paid leave for any reason. We only have an income as long as we have bookings.
Most of the sex workers I have spoken with are concerned about difficulties returning to work in the new economic climate and what that might mean for our livelihoods. Many sex workers require a deposit in order first to accept a booking.
Advertising, incall and supplies don’t pay for themselves, and hardly any directories have offered a reasonable avenue for compensation. I understand they are businesses also. However, they will be lucky to have any advertisers at all by the end of this crisis; no one will be able to afford their ads.
How are you navigating COVID-19 as a sex worker?
To be honest, I haven’t been working so much this year as a sex worker. I was semi-retired and managing two other businesses in the adult industry. Sin By Design is a niche, adult industry supporting business, offering branding and digital marketing packages for escorts. This was my primary source of income; now I am so lucky to keep a few staff on for my business to run, almost all of the adult industry, all our clients have no income and are worried. I was only a few weeks away from finally launching an online retail shop when this all happened, I have had another disastrous loss there also.
Navigating COVID-19 is a difficult task. There’s no precedent. There’s no user manual for anyone. There’s nothing that explains how to cope with what’s happening and what’s to come.
I’ve been keeping up with the news since earlier this year, and I’ve been trying to prepare for the possibilities of the future mentally, but the scale and gravity isn’t something anyone could have prepared for.
What are you doing to stay positive and connected through isolation?
I’m keeping busy. I have a long list of outstanding design work and admin that is well overdue. I’ll be clearing my To-Do Lists. Getting shit done keeps me positive, and I thrive in high-pressure situations.
I make sure that each day I take some time for me. It might sound silly, but meditation or self-care is a fantastic way to centre yourself and give back to you. Don’t underestimate the power of clearing your mind and recharging your energy. A clear mind makes better decisions in the time of crisis.
Also, healthy food always lightens my mood. I’m munching away on freshly grown delights rather than junk while locked up.
How can clients support sex workers in these current times?
I ask that everyone reading this to open up and consider considering giving a little if you can. Times are tough for everyone, but sex workers are unique in this situation. In many cases, isolation from work and friends can mean that not only the access to finance is gone, but so is access to their support. Many workers only support is at work with their peers and friends. The majority of sex workers already deal with daily isolation from society due to stigma. They may have small friend circles, possibly with little, to no contact with their family. For those who are already isolated on a typical day, they now find themselves completely cut off.
Please keep in mind that a large portion of our community will be facing these uncertainties alone. It is near impossible to divulge your anxieties regarding work, income and stability when you are the only one who knows the truth about your employment as a sex worker. The loneliness is unbearable for me to think about, and I am sending my love to every person struggling at this time.
Furthermore, so many workers are unable to apply for government assistance. For whatever the reason may be, many sex workers live day by day, job by job. Yet, they are still expected to pay rent, pay bills, pay study and survive. Survive on what?
"Navigating COVID-19 is a difficult task. There’s no precedent. There's no user manual for sex workers"
The government has done such an excellent job further outcasting us without any lifeline whatsoever to reel us back in. Once again, it is up to our community to support each other. We are human, you know? Being considered as such would be a breath of fresh air. The economy has been steadily in decline and noticeable for our industry since SESTA-FOSTA in 2018. Times have been severe enough already, and I can assure you more workers are struggling right now, than those who are not at this time. Many people do not consider sex work as real work. Other business owners do not understand or accept that we have a multitude of different skills, incredible skills, transferable business skills. Good luck to us though when trying to secure another job during these times.
Professional stigma is an absolute pet peeve of mine; we are the oldest profession for a bloody reason, that reason being we are completely adaptable and up-skill at will all the time. We have to! If only other business owners saw it that way and gave us a chance to prove it professionally. I am not one to beg, but I am asking now for everyone to contribute to help my peers survive.
Scarlet Alliance has set up an emergency fund and implore everyone to part with something, anything to help, even if it’s only a few dollars.
How is your business, Sin by Design, helping sex workers during the crisis?
Sin by Design is offering many support services at this time, including free mentoring sessions with me. We are accepting gift vouchers to distribute food and essentials for those who cannot wait for the emergency funds to clear. You can donate here.
Tell us about the new platform you're about to launch.
It's called Perversity and will give sex workers more control over their new online services by allowing them to produce educational content for the public. Our primary focus is to teach about love, sex, intimacy, branding, business, kink, consent, and so much more.
In addition to content sharing, we will also facilitate peer-to-peer education and business pathways via apprenticeships and internships. The response and feedback we have had are incredible, but we need help to finish this project quickly, also. I would never ask anyone to donate to this ahead of the emergency relief fund.
However, I would oh so happily accept developer and design hours as a gift to our community and get Perversity online ASAP.
Penthouse is offering free online advertising for sex workers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about Scarlett Alliance’s COVID-19 Impact and Response for Sex Workers here.
Donate to the Scarlet Alliance emergency fund for sex workers here.