Over 100 European NGOs endorse a statement calling for emergency support to sex workers amid the COVID-19 crisis

Sex workers are at a disadvantage during the pandemic as the nature of their work has prevented many from receiving government aid.

sex workers COVID-19

The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) is a sex worker led network which represents 104 organisations led by or working with sex workers in  33 countries in Europe and Central Asia.

As well as this, the ICRSE includes 150 individuals from many different careers such as sex workers, academics, trade unionists, human rights advocates, and women’s rights and LGBT+ rights activists.

The ICRSE who fight for the rights and support of sex workers are now pushing for European governments to include sex workers in COVID-19 financial and social aid that other citizens are receiving.

Due to the criminalised and stigmatised nature of their work, many sex workers work informally and many have been excluded from government aid amid the global pandemic.

In attempts to alleviate some of the strain on sex workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, sex worker organisations have been very proactive in providing support for their community by distributing food parcels, providing money to cover accommodation and other basic necessities, while continuing to offer emotional and administrative support to each other and formulating their common demands to policymakers across borders.

Co-convenor of ICRSE and Secretary of the Spanish sex workers’ union OTRAS, Sabrina Sanchezm explained how vulnerable sex workers are during the coronavirus as they are not being given adequate support by their governments.

“Like every member of society, sex workers want to contribute to ending this pandemic. However, unable to work and without economic support from the state, how are we meant to survive? The situation is critical. The EU and Member States must include sex workers in the emergency measures and long term recovery plans. Ignoring us and our demands must end now,” she explained.

While Kate McGrew, also co-convenor of ICRSE and Director of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland noted that the sex worker community in Ireland: “has been facing an increased level of surveillance, exploitation and violence since the introduction of the abolitionist Swedish model, the criminalisation of clients in 2017.”

She continued to say that the current crisis is only highlighting the risk associated with the criminalisation of sex and “without state protection and labour rights, the most precarious sex workers face the hard choice between abiding the confinement rules by not working and selling sex to feed themselves and their families”.

The ICRSE warns that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will increase the number of women and LGBT+ people selling sexual services to compensate for income loss and reimburse debts accrued during the crisis, as a similar spike was observed after the 2008 recession.

The organisation is calling on European institutions and states to implement evidence and rights-based policies, as the outcome of government bodies continually ignoring the needs of their most marginalized and vulnerable citizens could be detrimental to public health.

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