BY EMILIO LANERA
Australian sex workers association, Scarlet Alliance, has started an emergency fund to support sex workers who have lost their jobs due to social distancing rules being enforced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The strict rules restricting gatherings and human contact mean thousands of sex workers will be out of work as brothels, strip clubs and sex-on-premise sites are not considered essential services.
Scarlet Alliance acting president Gala Vanting said the organisation started the fund because many sex workers will face barriers accessing government support.
“Some sex workers are eligible for Centrelink benefits," Ms Gala said.
"Other sex workers, however, have concerns about the impacts of stigma and discrimination in having to disclose and provide evidence of sex work status to a department of government.
“There are also a significant number of sex workers who are not eligible for Centrelink, including many migrant sex workers and those without a fixed address.”
The fund is ongoing until further notice and relief applications are being assessed daily to ensure money is distributed as fairly as possible.
Sex worker, Honey* said she will not be applying for the fund despite not being eligible for Centrelink payments.
“I think there are workers who are much more vulnerable, or at risk of losing their housing who I hope the money will get to,” she said.
“I know people who have applied (for the fund) and it's literally a life saver to them.”
Ever since the social distancing ban came into effect Honey has been out of work and is struggling to find a source of income.
“Everyone is just saying, ‘you should go online’, but it’s a totally different skill set, it’s hard if you are not very computer literate to 'just switch over’.”
The emergency fund has so far raised more than $20,000, but Reason Party leader and former sex worker Fiona Patten urged sex workers to apply for government benefits, if they are eligible.
“I shared the fund on Twitter before the government rolled out all these benefits. I think for a lot of sex workers the government’s support announcements will really help,” Ms Patten said.
Even though sex workers who work as independent contractors may qualify for the sickness allowance and the Jobseeker Payment, Ms Patten said there will still be some who “fall through the cracks”.
“It will be up to the sex worker organisations to advocate on behalf of their members to ensure they get equal and fair access to the government programs on offer.”
Ms Patten said the government should try and support as many sex workers as possible to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
“I think it’s important the government accept these applications from sex workers because if they don’t, we will see people still try to work, which puts them at more of a risk of catching the virus, as well as spreading the virus through the community,” she said.
On April 1 in Belmont a brothel owner and a sex worker were fined $9,913 and $1,652 respectively for breaching the National and State COVID-19 directions.
*Pseudonym used to protect privacy