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COVID-19 Impact and Response for Sex Workers

Sex workers throughout Australia have been devastatingly hit by the impact of coronavirus. As a workforce, sex workers are predominantly a mixture of precarious workers and the self-employed, being independent contractors who work in or for sex industry businesses, or sole traders who work independently for themselves. As such sex workers are particularly marginalised in terms of the impact of the coronavirus and many will still be excluded from the stimulus packages announced by the government.

All eligible sex workers in Australia, including sex workers who work in brothels, strip clubs or massage parlours are advised to either apply for the income support available from the Commonwealth Government or register an intention to claim for that support.

While we welcome the announcement that from 27 April 2020 sole traders are included in the government’s Economic Response to the coronavirus, many sex workers will still be left without financial support. Sex workers’ needs for privacy and to protect themselves and their loved ones from stigma and discrimination can make it difficult, and in some cases impossible, for them to account for prior earnings if they now need urgent Government support to survive.

The impact of travel restrictions, business closures, self isolation and quarantine requirements have resulted in an unprecedented loss of work and income for sex workers. Sex workers, like most Australian workers have been facing a range of challenges, however for many of us, without access to current relief or support packages.

Immediate impacts to our community and our dependents include:

  • Homelessness and housing instability

  • Inability to buy food and basic items

  • Inability to pay bills including essential utilities

  • Inability to access medical services/prescription medicines

  • Impact of loss of income, stress, social distancing and quarantine

As the rate of coronavirus continues to grow with no indication of timeframes, sex workers are placed in the impossible position of having to balance the need to protect ourselves and the community against the prospect of no income and no access to financial relief. It should be noted that sex workers are leaders in managing health and safety at work and this has been continually demonstrated in our leadership in responding to STIs, HIV and other BBVs. We are already working together through our own peer-based organisations to coordinate a community response.

Scarlet Alliance and our member organisations have called upon Government to provide targeted support to our community. The measures we have called for include:

  • Crisis funding to Scarlet Alliance as the national peak organisation to work with our member organisations in the states and territories to distribute emergency relief funding to precarious workers, including but not limited to sex workers without a fixed address, sex workers without ID or otherwise ineligible for Centrelink

  • Crisis funding to Scarlet Alliance state and territory member sex worker organisations, including those that are currently unfunded

  • Further relaxation of barriers to income support for sole traders and independent contractors including requirement to provide evidence of earnings or work

  • Access to healthcare for all sex workers, including migrant sex workers and other sex workers who are Medicare ineligible

  • Prohibition of evictions on all forms of housing and workplaces during this crisis period

  • No disconnections to any essential services including electricity, gas, water, telecommunications and internet

We are urging the Government to ensure that all measures relating to sex work must be developed in consultation with Scarlet Alliance and our member organisations to ensure they are effective and do not have negative unintended consequences to either public health or the health and safety of sex workers in Australia.

Australia’s successful public health response to BBV’s and STI’s, especially to the HIV and AIDS pandemic, was predicated on a meaningful and full inclusion of the most marginalised communities in all responses. We would urge the Australian government to again include sex workers and sex worker organisations in the response to this pandemic.

Sex workers are committed to working together with the Australian Government to ensure this unprecedented crisis comes to an end.


Last Updated 20 April 2020

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