Covid-19, sex workers and the state’s response

Woman in mask imageEarlier this week we sent the following email to the caretaker Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and caretaker Minister for Health Simon Harris as well as other state departments. Sex workers who are experiencing financial difficulties, much like other precarious workers during these times, are being affected by Covid-19. We must be included in any plans for vulnerable populations and we cannot remain invisible to the state during this time.

We are writing on behalf of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) regarding measures and public awareness strategies to combat Covid-19. We wish to offer the full support of SWAI and to participate positively in all efforts to mitigate the impact of this health crisis.
There are currently thousands of people in Ireland involved in sex work-related activity involving considerable interpersonal contact. Examples include escorting, massage, stripping and sugaring. For some of the more vulnerable members of the sex working community their accommodation in hostels and homeless accommodation may increase their risk further.
The advice of the National Health Emergency Team to minimise social contact will inevitably reduce the levels of this work. However, it is inevitable that sex work-related activity will continue.
This situation will both very seriously impact the ability of sex workers, many of whom have dependents and family, to earn an income and continue to pose significant threats to the health and general wellbeing of both sex workers and their clients.
Openly addressing this health crisis is greatly complicated in the area of sex work by the fact, that while our work is deemed legal under 2017 legislation, our clients at the criminalised.  Co-operation with health professionals, contact tracing measures, self-isolation, etc are seriously impeded by the provisions of this law.
To facilitate the fullest engagement by sex workers in the battle against Covid-19 we request the following:
1) Inclusion of SWAII in all communications and information regarding best practice and control measures related to Covid-19
2) Participation of SWAI in relevant sub-committees dealing with vulnerable and most-at-risk categories of individuals and communities
3) Confirmation that funding and welfare payment measures for the general community, including earlier sickness benefit and its extension to the self-employed, applies fully to sex workers.
4) Cessation of all garda raids on sex work-related activity for the duration of Covid-19, in particular for issues such as ‘brothel keeping’, which in most cases involves two or more people working together for health and safety.
5) Establishment of a specific SWAI /gardaí liaison arrangement to address the separate issue of trafficking during the period of Covid-10 measures.
6) Suspension of current stigmatising advertising campaigns such as ‘We don’t buy it’ during Covid-19, as the messaging in these campaigns drives sex workers and their clients further away from engagement with health professionals and necessary participation in mitigation and self-isolation requirements. 
7) Inclusion of SWAI in the notification for any process related to small grants or payments to promote health and safety at local community level or vulnerable persons categories related to Covid-19.
We look forward to supporting the combined government and community based effort to successfully address Covid-19 and to hearing from you.