The COVID-19 pandemic is causing sex workers throughout the world, including in the U.S. and the D.C. area, to experience hardship, a total loss of income and increased discrimination and harassment, according to the United Nations agency UNAIDS and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects.
“As sex workers and their clients self-isolate, sex workers are left unprotected, increasingly vulnerable and unable to provide for themselves and their families,” the two international groups said in an April 8 joint statement.
“Sex worker-led organizations from all regions are reporting a lack of access to national social protection schemes and exclusion from emergency social protection measures being put in place for other workers, particularly where sex work is criminalized,” the statement says.
“Wherever and whenever possible, sex workers are responsibly self-isolating in response to governments’ calls,” it says. “However, when they are excluded from COVID-19 social protection responses, sex workers are faced with putting their safety, their health and their lives at increased risk just to survive.”
Cyndee Clay, executive director of the D.C. sex worker advocacy group HIPS, said HIPS is planning to start an emergency fund to help sex workers survive financially at a time when their income has nearly disappeared and they are ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits available to other workers.
Information about how to contribute to the fund is available on the HIPS website hips.org, Clay said.
Clay said many HIPS clients are LGBT people who are homeless and do sex work as a means of survival.
Like other nonprofit organizations and businesses in the D.C. area, Clay said HIPS has had to temporarily close its offices at 906 H St., N.E. due to the coronavirus social distancing requirements. She said the group is operating nearly all of its programs remotely through phone and online services. She said HIPS continues to arrange in-person visits for clients at a table setup on the sidewalk outside the HIPS offices on H Street.
“We’ve modified our services schedule but everything that we’ve considered kind of essential is still happening,” Clay said.