COVID-19 illuminates discriminatory sex work policies

Our societal response to COVID-19 has revealed a lot about who we value in society, and what we are prepared to do to protect the lives of others. How responses to the pandemic have played out has particularly illuminated the injustices that sex workers endure globally because of discriminatory laws and policies.

Around the world sex worker-led organisations have set up hardship funds to crowdfund support for sex workers who have been impacted by the pandemic. Because sex work is often not recognised as work and is so highly stigmatised, in many contexts sex workers have faced considerable barriers to accessing the financial safety nets available to workers in other occupations. Sex worker-led organisations have had little choice but to step in and fill the gap. In a recent letter published in the Lancet, experts raised grave concerns about the exclusion of sex workers from government protections. The letter also urged governments to work directly with sex worker-led organisations to respond in ways that offer sex workers the most helpful support possible during the pandemic.

While COVID-19 has brought the marginalisation of sex workers into sharp focus, the responses that have occurred are reflective of a much longer history of exclusion, where the laws surrounding sex work – and how sex work is conceptualised – shape how sex workers are treated in society.

Excluded in Scotland and Ireland

In Scotland, SCOTPEP and Umbrella Lane, both sex worker-led organisations, lobbied the government to provide financial aid to support sex workers during lockdown. They also asked for a moratorium on police arrests and fines. Funds were eventually made available, yet these were given exclusively to the Encompass Network to administer – a network comprised only of organisations that define prostitution as a form of violence against women. As a result, neither Umbrella Lane nor SCOTPEP can access the funds they lobbied for in order to assist their peers.

Umbrella Lane provides many valuable support services and had already organised a hardship fund prior to government support being announced. SCOTPEP, meanwhile, has been supporting sex workers and advocating for their rights for decades. Their exclusion is particularly unjust given they are part of the community for whom the funding is intended, are chronically underfunded organisations, and have long been doing the heavy lifting of trying to ensure sex workers have rights, access to support that respects their individual experiences, and are not criminalised.

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Lynzi Armstrong | Radio Free (2021-12-04T03:41:23+00:00) » COVID-19 illuminates discriminatory sex work policies. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/09/covid-19-illuminates-discriminatory-sex-work-policies/.
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" » COVID-19 illuminates discriminatory sex work policies." Lynzi Armstrong | Radio Free - Tuesday June 9, 2020, https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/09/covid-19-illuminates-discriminatory-sex-work-policies/
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Lynzi Armstrong | Radio Free Tuesday June 9, 2020 » COVID-19 illuminates discriminatory sex work policies., viewed 2021-12-04T03:41:23+00:00,<https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/09/covid-19-illuminates-discriminatory-sex-work-policies/>
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" » COVID-19 illuminates discriminatory sex work policies." Lynzi Armstrong | Radio Free - Accessed 2021-12-04T03:41:23+00:00. https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/09/covid-19-illuminates-discriminatory-sex-work-policies/
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" » COVID-19 illuminates discriminatory sex work policies." Lynzi Armstrong | Radio Free [Online]. Available: https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/09/covid-19-illuminates-discriminatory-sex-work-policies/. [Accessed: 2021-12-04T03:41:23+00:00]
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» COVID-19 illuminates discriminatory sex work policies | Lynzi Armstrong | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/09/covid-19-illuminates-discriminatory-sex-work-policies/ | 2021-12-04T03:41:23+00:00
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