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Individuals who earn their money in the sex industry may be hit extremely hard in the fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Conflicting and confusing information from government officials has caused panic across the country, leading to citizens flooding stores and purchasing household products in bulk, but as the government continues to roll out its social distancing guidelines, it’s likely that sex workers could be among the most affected by the shutdown.
“There are those who are withdrawing from the business entirely at the moment for safety reasons,” Susanne Bleier Wilp, a German former sex worker and spokeswoman for the Association of Erotic and Sexual Services Providers, told The Associated Press. Others are requiring that customers disinfect themselves, she added — a measure that medical experts say is unlikely to effectively stop the spread of the virus during close physical contact.
But in Germany, sex work is legal and government regulated. It is one of eight countries in Europe where prostitution is legal as well as Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Hungary and Latvia.
Sex work is criminalized throughout the United States, which means that protections that the government may implement to aid small businesses and workers struggling to make ends meet may not be made readily available to those who earn make a living as sex workers.
According to Amnesty USA, women of color, especially Black cisgender and transgender women, girls, and femmes, have always been particularly vulnerable as the law continues to view them as criminals.
In April 2018, President Donald Trump signed new legislation which only aided in further marginalizing sex workers, by introducing the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. The legislation making it harder for workers to earn online, as many online personal sections were removed. The Department of Justice even seized Backpage, one of the most accessible platforms for sex workers. It was subsequently shut down by the FBI permanently.
For the time being, the future is bleak. On Wednesday, March 18, the federal government plan to combat the coronavirus warned policymakers last week that a pandemic “will last 18 months or longer” and could include “multiple waves,” according to the New York Times.
A shift in attitude towards the sex industry is desperately needed. Still, with coronavirus already claiming dozens of lives across the country, it is unlikely that the Trump administration will prioritize the forgotten sex workers.