Mon, 01 Feb, 2021 – 06:30
Sex workers have seen incomes plummet by over 80% during level 5 lockdown, forcing people to accept potentially dangerous clients, Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) has warned.
Kate McGrew, director with SWAI, said that financial necessity has forced some 50% of sex workers to meet clients throughout the pandemic, despite the escalating risks.
“Poverty is coercive,” said Ms McGrew, an activist, sex worker, artist, and reality TV star.
“We [sex workers] couldn’t access PUP payments because we’re forced to work in the shadows. And people are doing this work to survive.
“We hear so much from workers about needing to take on clients at this time that they otherwise would not have.
People have had to accept callers who were abusive and there’s a real risk verbal abuse will lead to physical violence.
“A huge reason why we want our work to be fully decriminalised is so that we do have legal avenues through which we can participate and engage with the State, especially at a time like this, a global health crisis.”
SWAI raised a €26,000 hardship fund to help struggling sex workers through the pandemic, giving out small payments to individuals since.
‘Help people survive’
“We did that at the start of the pandemic to help flatten the curve and help people survive at this time,” said Ms McGrew.
“We’ve also been giving out Tesco vouchers and have been doing everything we can to help people get through this.
“People are still having to work but there certainly has been a drop in clients.”
Ms McGrew said that 80% of clients have continued to request in-person meetings despite the lockdown and Covid-19. Added to increased safety concerns at work are other “stressors” such as payment platforms shutting down on sex workers throughout the pandemic, she said.
“Sex workers are being kicked off and their accounts shut down on payment platforms. That trend had already started but it’s gotten worse over the pandemic.
“People are really struggling. And they’re struggling to find places to work, to travel to work, all these things are nerve-wracking and criminalised.”
SWAI has helped some sex workers move online during the pandemic, with virtual sex work becoming increasingly popular, but this has not been an option for people who do not want to share their image online or lose their anonymity.
As post-pandemic recession bites, Ms McGrew said that more and more people will turn to sex work, whether virtual or in-person, to survive financially.
Ms McGrew said that although SWAI’s funding proposals were rejected by the Government, they have since had a “positive” meeting with Justice Minister Helen McEntee and hope that their position is becoming better understood.
The Irish Examiner sought comment from the Department of Justice but no reply was received at the time of going to press.