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Sex workers in urban centers are suddenly facing declines in clients, who are worried about contracting the coronavirus. “Indoor sex workers said regulars have started sending cancellations and new inquiries have dried up entirely," writes The Huffington Post. "Street-based sex workers say customers have all but evaporated.”
Arguing that the lack of routine clients will force sex workers into desperation to pay their bills and put them in more dangerous situations, they quote a Seattle-based escort saying, “I’m already seeing women in danger of moving into homeless encampments or losing custody of their kids.”
“As an in-person sex worker, this isn't good for business," lamented an anonymous UK-based escort in Refinery 29. "The coronavirus outbreak threatens a significant part of my livelihood. From my contacts within the industry, I know that escorts are experiencing a higher rate of cancellations and fewer bookings than usual.”
Stating that she made far more from sex work than her full-time job, she complains that the fear is causing both regulars and travelling clients have suddenly cancelled appointments. A fellow escort reasoned, “It is right for clients to be diligent about their health, especially if they are older or have underlying health conditions. But I believe a lot of these cancellations are down to people being advised to avoid touching others.”
Despite cultural and political elevation of sex work as an idealistic and empowering form of employment, sex work has always been dangerous for everyone involved.
What could be positive from this sudden new concern for personal and public health and safety is an increase in the awareness of the everyday dangers sex workers already face. The Huffington Post states clearly of the sex worker in Seattle, WA, “Since 2015, the city has experienced an unprecedented spike in homelessness and drug addiction — two factors that have increased the number of people selling sex." The CDC also reports that sex workers are an extremely high risk group for drug abuse, alcohol abuse and HIV infection, as well as other STD’s.
Janet Mock, leader of the Women’s March and a transgender activist, advocates for sex work saying, “I do not believe using your body — often marginalized people’s only asset, especially in poor, low-income, communities of color — to care after yourself is shameful. What I find shameful is a culture that exiles, stigmatizes and criminalizes those engaged in underground economies like sex work as a means to move past struggle to survival.”
Democratic candidates for the presidency Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both stated they’d be open to decriminalizing the practice, as well as has The World Health Organization in 2012, and Amnesty International in 2016.
One thing everyone agrees on is the danger to both the individuals engaging in sex work and those who pay them for sex, despite passionate arguments across the board. It is odd that the coronavirus pandemic has been the most compelling social contagion to push this reality into the spotlight. But the left still seems to be missing the point.
“Jane raises the point that as self-employed sex workers, if we can’t go to work, then we don’t get paid," said an escort in Refinery 29. "If we contract the virus, we will be unable to work for weeks — with no sick pay. And even if we don’t get sick ourselves, if the virus becomes more widespread in the UK, what is already looking like a bleak few months for sex workers may leave us without any income whatsoever.”
The left, focused primarily on reducing stigma of an idea they view as empowering for women, ignores the fact that regardless of the current pandemic, every day a sex worker “clocks in” they risk contracting or spreading a communicable disease that could easily become the next pandemic. It is clear that those who choose to patronize the industry understand the risk they are undertaking, so why do progressive and women’s activists ignore the same risk to the very people they promote as doing “real work?”
Viewing sex work as just another job a person clocks in and out of is a huge part of the risk to sex workers themselves. The World’s Oldest Profession is unlikely to be impacted for long. Advocates will continue to push the idea that sex workers should be treated as every other wage worker in the West. Is sex work really worth the risk?
But hopefully the public’s perception will adjust enough to recognize that the risk we see today in the coronavirus is just one of the many concerns sex workers pose not only to themselves and their clients, but to society as a whole. There may be a compelling argument for decriminalizing sex work, but public health is not one of them. As far as the markets go, it looks like supply currently exceeds demand and the market has spoken.