Stethoscope Kate McGrew current sex worker, director of The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) and co-convenor of the European Network for Sex Workers’ Rights (ICRSE) is calling for the Irish government to urgently act to ensure that sex workers, along with their families and communities, can access social protections during the COVID-19 pandemic. She says “As more countries impose lockdowns, self-isolation and travel restrictions many sex workers will lose most, or all, of their income and face financial hardship, increased vulnerability, destitution or homelessness. The clandestine nature of sex work also means that many will be unable to access the safeguards provided for other workers, such as sick pay.” 

She continues “Many sex workers come from communities that already face high levels of marginalisation and social exclusion including women living in poverty, migrants and refugees, trans people and drug users. Sex workers who are the primary earners in their families, or who don’t have alternative means of support are at risk of being forced into more precarious and dangerous situations to survive. 

Sex workers in Ireland are already reporting: 

  • Drastic loss of income 
  • Closure of workplaces 
  • Lack of funds to pay for basic needs, support family members and dependents
  • Inability to access community  health services which have shut down or decreased their activities
  • Increased pressure to take risks while working in order to secure income 

This pandemic is revealing, with extreme urgency, the ways in which sex workers are forced to operate on the margins, in precarious circumstances, without the protections enjoyed by other workers. 

SWAI and ICRSE support efforts by governments to control transmissions of the virus. However, public health measures that do not consider the circumstances of the most marginalized groups put their overall success at risk. In providing emergency measures and relief, governments must ensure that they reach workers who are excluded from the formal economy. 

As minimum governments must urgently provide:

  • Immediate, appropriate and easy-to-access financial support for sex workers in crisis,
  • Emergency housing for homeless sex workers
  • A firewall between immigration authorities and health services
  • Access to health care for all sex workers, irrespective of their immigration status

All measures related to sex work must be based on public health and human rights principles and be developed in consultation with sex workers and their organisations to limit their negative impact. This unprecedented crisis calls for meaningful collaboration between all sectors of society, including those most marginalized. Only by involving sex workers do governments stand a chance to limit the pandemic and eventually end it.

To mitigate the harm of the pandemic on sex workers we have set up a hardship crowdfund. Sex work is work and sex workers like many precarious workers have been affected by Covid-19. This money will go directly into the hands of sex workers through individual emergency payments. Here is the link:

Sex workers are not the problem, we are part of the solution”

#DecrimforSafety #SupportSafeSexWork

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.