REWIRE NEWS: Here’s How You Can Help Sex Workers During the COVID-19 Outbreak

As the number of COVID-19 infections in the United States grows rapidly, nightclubs and bars have shut down, public health officials have ordered people to “socially distance,” the stock market has tanked, and sex workers have begun to see negative impacts of the pandemic.

“I haven’t gotten any customers, so I’ve been cutting down on food,” Maya Moreno, a sex worker based in Brooklyn, New York, told Rewire.News. “A few people canceled because of flights, but I’m also not getting the amount of people reaching out like I used to.”

Moreno is shifting her focus to her OnlyFans account, a paid subscription content service, amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sex workers run a higher risk of virus transmission, as many jobs—like stripping, escorting, and massage work— require in-person gatherings and physical intimacy. The public health crisis has also meant lost incomes and a decimation of their industryStrip clubs closedMassage parlors closed. Online, sex workers across the country have shared updates about cancellations and declines in business. Those with access are moving online to subscription services like OnlyFans and camming, or shifting to other industries altogether.

Sex workers are usually self employed or independent contractors, and thus not eligible for unemployment benefits when out of a job. And there is no knowing how long it will take for the industry to bounce back, given the forecasted economic recession.

Here are a few ways you can help sex workers right now.

Donate money and supplies

Sex workers and advocates have set up emergency relief fundraisers in cities like New YorkDetroitPortland, and Las Vegas. Other sex workers’ rights organizations in specific localities, as well as online, are raising funds too.

  • Lysistrata: online sex worker mutual care collective
  • Red Canary Song: advocate group for Asian and migrant sex workers in New York City
  • SWOP Behind Bars: nonprofit providing community support for incarcerated sex workers
  • Green Light Project: Seattle-based harm reduction outreach group for street-based sex workers
  • Bay Area Workers Support: Bay Area-based sex worker resource organization
  • Coyote RI: Rhode Island-based sex worker advocacy grassroots organization

More comprehensive lists of emergency relief fundraisers can be found here and here, including international efforts.

Some groups, like Coyote RI and SWOP Brooklyn, are seeking donations of supplies. SWOP Behind Bars accepts book donations for incarcerated sex workers and those who will be released soon.

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Here’s How You Can Help Sex Workers During the COVID-19 Outbreak by Tiffany Diane Tso

March 26, 2020

SALON: Sex workers are stressed, anxious and depressed amid COVID-19 pandemic

As non-essential businesses close to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, American workers are experiencing layoffs, pay cuts, and a whole lot of financial uncertainty. While on-the-books workers are being encouraged to file for unemployment and/or possibly being aided by Congress's Families First Coronavirus Response Act, American sex workers are unlikely to benefit from either of these measures.

"Sex workers cannot file for unemployment and are denied access to several aspects of the formal economy such as paid sick leave and healthcare,"  Emily Coombes, a researcher and organizer based in Las Vegas, told Salon in an email. "Overall, the public needs to know that not only are sex workers being hit hard by the spread of this virus and response to a growing global pandemic, but also how sex workers are missing from a lot of general conversations about supporting workers through self-isolation."

The Las Vegas Strip has shut down, putting service workers in a precarious situation — particularly sex workers. Sex work is notoriously precarious labor, meaning many sex workers were already struggling to make ends meet prior to the pandemic, especially those already marginalized in society.

"Black, brown, trans and queer workers, sex workers who are housing unstable, sex workers who are chronically ill or living with disabilities are all particularly at risk for negative impacts," Coombes said. "There are essentially no secure safety nets for sex workers when there is a massive shutdown or quarantine like the one we're in now; what sex working communities often end up relying on to get by is mutual aid and emergency funds."

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Sex workers are stressed, anxious and depressed amid COVID-19 pandemic by Nicole Karlis

March 22, 2020

SBS NEWS: Banks accused of 'slut-shaming' for refusing financial services to sex workers

Banks have been accused of "corporate slut-shaming" for refusing financial services to sex workers, with NAB singled out as "absolute worst hypocrites".

Victorian MP David Limbrick says a number of banks have contacted sex workers in recent weeks to tell them their accounts have been cancelled and to take their business elsewhere.

The Liberal Democrat said sex shop workers were also being discriminated.

"I condemn these policies which effectively amount to corporate slut-shaming," Mr Limbrick told the upper house on Tuesday.

"The absolute worst hypocrites are NAB, who simultaneously claim all sorts of virtues in their human rights, diversity and inclusion policies while treating sex workers like lesser human beings.

"I'll continue to publicly shame NAB until they change."

NAB stopped servicing brothels and escort agencies earlier this year to comply with anti-money laundering laws, bringing it into line with all other major banks, a spokeswoman for NAB told AAP.

"However, we do provide banking services to sex workers who operate independently and legally and have no plans to change this policy," she said.

"We encourage customers who work in the sex industry to contact us for more information."

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Banks accused of "slut-shaming" for refusing financial services to sex workers by SBS News

Nov. 9, 2019

ADVOCATE: Margaret Cho on BDSM, 'Polyamory-Fatigue,' Wanting To Die Alone

Margaret Cho grew up in San Fransisco, coming of age at the start of the AIDS crisis. Her parents owned a gay book store; Cho worked at a lesbian BDSM collective and had a brief stint as a dominatrix. It was during this time Cho started asking the question, "In the age of AIDS, what does safe sex mean? And how do we still make it exciting and fun?"

The answer came in the form of a long leather whip. She describes BDSM as the perfect place to engage and celebrate sexuality in a way that felt dangerous, without being dangerous in a way that would transmit HIV or other infections.

All of these experiences have fed into her comedy career, the cornerstone of which has been marked by her candor. Before nonmonogamy had entered the mainstream consciousness as it has today, Cho was talking about it onstage and in interviews, just as she would speak about people's disbelief over her bisexuality, her experience with sex work, and more recently, her newfound "polyamory-fatigue."

Cho speaks about all this on the LGBTQ&A podcast, and opens up about why she now plans on being single for the rest of her life.

Jeffrey Masters: Do you have any grand theories to why people are still so wary of bisexuality?
Margaret Cho: I think it's because people use bisexuality as the lie before they get to the truth. You're acknowledging your otherness, but you're not willing to go all the way. To say you're bi, a lot of people when they're coming out, they'll stop at bi at their first utterance of who I am. I'm going to give you bisexual. I'm going to give this lie to my parents so that maybe there's hope for them to hang on to this idea that I could be straight.

Before we had gay marriage and before we had this idea of being able to have families, bisexuality gave you a little bit of a sliver of that ticket to normalcy. Bisexuality is seen as this strange thing of dipping your toe into the pool of otherness, but not all way all in.

JM: Was there comradery between you and other famous, closeted queer women before you came out? 
MC: I remember I was sitting on Lea DeLaria's lap in, gosh, 1991. My manager at the time was so panicked that I was gay and he was like, "You know, you have to present yourself as straight. I don't care what you do or who you are. As far as we're going, you're straight."

I was just really scared into a feeling of Wow, this feels really scary and unsafe.

JM: I was actually under the impression that you were open about being bi, even early in your career. 
MC: I always was, but at that time, I don’t know we could even call it that. I had grown up in a very gay-positive environment — my parents owned a gay bookstore and there were so many examples of very, very exciting things happening around me with Harvey Milk and this gay pride parade that was growing and growing and growing every year — but there was a real confusion around bisexuality.

Even my parents, they're fine with gayness, they're fine with straightness, they have a real problem with bi.

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Margaret Cho on BDSM, 'Polyamory-Fatigue,' Wanting To Die Alone by Jeffrey Masters

Sept. 25, 2019

GQ: Why Chronic Pain Sufferers Are Turning to BDSM

“No pain, no gain” is a rallying slogan employed at both the beauty parlor and at the gym. Sometimes after a workout, you might even get a massage, which is quite literally the act of inflicting pain to the point of relaxation.

It’s why those who go looking for pain are often labeled perverts. It’s why those who live with it near-constantly (chronic pain) are often considered abject. Oftentimes, the two are interlinked. Kink and BDSM scenes are no stranger to the disabled and those living with chronic pain (some living with chronic pain self-identify as disabled, others do not). Which might beg the question: why do those living in pain seek out more pain?

According to Emma Sheppard, perhaps the leading (and one of the only) academics whose research centers on kink and chronic pain, there isn’t a causal link between the two, so much as there is a common understanding. After interviewing several people who lived with chronic pain and engaged with kink play over the course of 18 months, Sheppard found that BDSM was a useful tool—and perhaps a more common one than previously thought—for the disabled to communicate and control their pain. While the participants were primarily sexually submissive, Sheppard also interviewed doms (someone who takes on the role of the sexually superior and controlling), as well as switches (someone who veers between the two). What seemed to draw each of these participants to kink was the element of control.

"Controlling pain is important. Whether that be resting to decrease some pain, using painkillers if they work, moving position at the simplest level. Kink is taking this to its natural conclusion by making pain to control,” one participant from Sheppard’s study explains. Other participants used kink as a distraction from their pain, while another viewed pain as merely a practical consideration, Sheppard tells me. “A couple of participants (who were switches) felt they were less able to do painful things to others during play, but that willingness and ability shifted as they became more accepting of their pain.”

Having lived with chronic pain for the better part of a decade herself, Sheppard’s research into the link between kink and her condition exposes uncomfortable truths in terms of society’s norms around sex and pain. “We don’t like acknowledging times when pain is the point,” she writes over email, “and there’s this expectation that we always want that pain to stop—that stopping pain is a big concern (or should be) for people in pain, especially chronic pain.” The focus on pain’s end and its cure is an “ableist norm” which shape the unpained person’s understanding of those living with chronic pain.

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Why Chronic Pain Sufferers Are Turning to BDSM by Emma Madden

Sept. 25, 2019

OPEN DEMOCRACY: Rights, rescues and resistance in the global movement for sex workers’ rights – introducing the series

The sex worker rights movement has grown significantly over the past two decades. Sex workers have organised to demand recognition of sexual labour as labour; challenge stigma, discrimination, and all forms of violence, including by law enforcement; improve working conditions; lobby for full human, social, and labour rights; advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work; and provide peer-based support and services. Many sex worker organisations also organise and support migrant sex workers in an effort to address the specific challenges they confront, such as racism and xenophobia, precarity due to their im/migration status, lack of access to health and other services, vulnerability to exploitation and violence, and the risk of detention and deportation.

Since the 1990s, sex workers have also had to contend with the expansion of the global ‘anti-trafficking industry’ with its strong anti-sex work, criminal justice, and border control agendas. Sex worker organisations in Spain, Thailand, and India, for example, pointed out in a recent report from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women that trafficking was “an issue that was introduced [or indeed imposed] from outside the industry itself, propelled by a moralistic agenda, that organisations have felt obliged to understand, in order to counter the harmful effects of conceptually conflating trafficking and sex work.” In many countries, anti-trafficking policies and interventions have targeted sex workers with highly detrimental impact.

This has taken the form of greater police surveillance of the sex industry; raids on sex work establishments; forced detention in rehabilitation centres; arrests and prosecutions of sex workers as traffickers; and deportations of migrant sex workers. All of these undermine and ignore sex workers’ agency as well as their legitimate demands for better working conditions and human, social, and labour rights.

Further, the crucial role of sex worker organisations in promoting the rights, safety, and security of sex workers and addressing working conditions in the industry has largely gone unrecognised by national and international policymakers, donors, and some non-governmental organisations. The ideologies, assumptions, and agendas that fuel the anti-trafficking industry have also resulted in the exclusion and silencing of sex workers when it comes to the development of policies that directly affect their lives and work. Over the last ten years, this trend has certainly been evident in countries where governments have enacted laws that criminalise the purchase of sexual services.

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Rights, rescues and resistance in the global movement for sex workers’ rights by Borislav Gerasimov & Annalee Lepp

Sept. 23, 2019

OPEN ACCESS GOVERNMENT: US law criminalises sex workers for discussing work online

Human Rights Watch and four other plaintiffs will present arguments on September 20 against the dismissal of their challenge to a 2017 United States law that imposes criminal liability for online speech about sex work.

The hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 31 of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse and William B. Bryant Annex in Washington, DC. Plaintiffs contend the law violates freedom of speech and makes sex work more dangerous for an already vulnerable and criminalised population, Human Rights Watch said.

The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, commonly known as FOSTA, makes it illegal to own or use an internet site with the intent to “promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.” Because the law’s language is broad and vague, it could prevent sex workers and others from writing about sex work and posting about critically important health and safety issues, and it would restrict organisations like Human Rights Watch from effectively reporting on and advocating for the decriminalisation of sex work.

“We’re going to keep fighting this law that threatens our ability to do our job – to clearly advocate for the rights of sex workers and to see our work shared freely across the internet,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We’ve already seen the law impel many partners and intermediaries to take down information that helps guide sex workers to online resources to protect themselves”

Sex workers and sex worker organisations in the United States have said FOSTA has endangered them. Websites that made it easier for sex workers to screen clients and to sell sex in safer locations have stopped sex workers from posting.

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US law criminalises sex workers for discussing work online by Open Access Government staff

Sept. 20, 2019

THE GUARDIAN: Today’s sex workers, like their Victorian sisters, don’t want ‘saving’

On Tuesday, Sheffield council’s licensing committee voted to renew the licence of the Spearmint Rhino lap-dancing club until next April. Lap-dancing clubs in the UK are legally required to reapply for their licence, and the city’s Spearmint Rhino has been successful in doing so every year since it opened in 2003. But this year, what is usually a routine procedure became a lightning rod for highly charged debates around sex work and feminism.

Over the past 12 months, the Spearmint Rhino has been the target of a coalition of feminist groups who have campaigned against its licence being renewed, on the grounds that strip clubs sexually objectify women and act as a prostitution grooming ground for vulnerable young women.

Last February, the group Not Buying It paid men to go into Spearmint Rhinos in London and Sheffield, buy lap dances and film naked women without their consent. This footage was then presented to Sheffield council by the Women’s Equality party as proof of multiple breaches of the club’s code of conduct. The council’s licensing committee subsequently launched an inquiry and found that six dancers had sexually touched themselves, each other and/or the customers. But despite these breaches, Sheffield council agreed to renew Spearmint Rhino’s licence.

The tactics employed by the club’s opponents are well established and – unlike in this case – usually successful. Campaigns to revoke the licences of strip clubs on the grounds that they exploit women and attract sexually depraved men are nothing new. One of the earliest campaigns was led by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice which was established in 1873, and targeted burlesque theatres, calling them the “habitats of sex crazed perverts”. Anti-vice activists would sneak into the clubs and report the “disorderly” and “lewd” acts they saw on stage to the licensing committee, demanding the venue’s licence be revoked.

They finally succeeded in their mission in 1942, when the licences of the last three burlesque clubs in Manhattan were revoked.

The tactics employed by the society and groups such as Not Buying It are virtually identical. But what has changed in the intervening 77 years is that the sex workers at the centre of these debates are finally being allowed to speak for themselves. And to the surprise of many feminist groups, it turns out that they do not want saving. Nor do they seem particularly grateful to their would-be saviours for campaigning on their behalf to do them out of a job. In fact, they appear to be downright angry about have-a-go rescue missions that involve secretly filming them naked, then outing them to members of local licensing committees.

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Today’s sex workers, like their Victorian sisters, don’t want ‘saving’ by Kate Lister

Sept. 20, 2019

ALLURE: How to Discuss Sexual Boundaries and Consent, According to a Sex Educator

The first time I discovered the “yes/no/maybe” worksheet, I had dragged two of my closest friends to a Brooklyn sex toy shop for a Kink 101 class. Afterward, we rushed across the street to a crowded bar to pour over every word of it — discussing which sex acts we knew gave us pleasure and which ones we’d like to explore. We listened intently to each other as we analyzed where our desires and boundaries aligned or differed. This affirmed what I now understand as a sex educator: that sometimes we need an ice breaker of sorts to start a dialogue around the sex we want to have. Talking about our desires can feel complicated.

A yes/no/maybe worksheet is a guide for exploring sexual desires and boundaries. It basically is exactly what it sounds like: Alongside an extensive list of sexual acts are three boxes where you categorize every act as either a yes, no, or maybe. As a sex educator, this worksheet is one of my top recommendations for every person who is sexually active with themselves or others.

The beauty of making this type of list is that you can almost always find one tailored to your current needs. Are you just starting to think about having partnered sex for the first time? This comprehensive list might be perfect for you. Are you in a non-monogamous relationship? This list might suit your needs. Are you new to exploring BDSM? Try a kinky yes/no/maybe worksheet. Consent lies at the intersection of two (or more) people's mutual desires — yes/no/maybe lists can help you figure out what those are.

Having a fulfilled sex life doesn’t magically manifest — it takes intention and self-exploration to not only figure out what you desire but also how to communicate about those desires with your partners. When engaging in the yes/no/maybe worksheet with a partner, it’s important to take time individually filling out your categories before discussing them together. This reduces the likelihood of influencing one another’s responses to mirror what it is you think your partner wants. It also creates more spaciousness for explicit and decisive no’s. For people who struggle to create boundaries, this worksheet can ease pressure as everyone is bound to have a list of hard no’s.

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How to Discuss Sexual Boundaries and Consent, According to a Sex Educator by Corrine Kai

Sept. 19, 2019

BUZZFEED NEWS: A Consultant For “Hustlers” Said Sex Workers Feel Conflicted About The Film

A consultant for the film Hustlers said sex workers have had mixed reactions to the hit film, feeling both “super jazzed” about the representation it gives, but also “really pissed off” about the double standards Hollywood is allowed to perpetuate.

Jacqueline Frances, who served as a “comfort consultant” for the film, told BuzzFeed News’ Twitter show AM to DM that despite Hustlers promoting strippers “and being super hot on Instagram with their blue check marks,” sex workers are getting “deleted and shadow-banned every day.”

“It just doesn’t seem fair,” she said. “Why does Hollywood get to sensationalize and have all of the permission to promote this culture, while actual sex workers are suffering every day and getting deleted off Instagram?”

Hustlers, starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, and Julia Stiles, tells the story of a group of New York City–based strippers who drug stock traders and CEOs in order to steal their money. The movie first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier in September and was released in theaters Sept. 13. The film, which has been a box office success and well-received by critics, is based on a New York magazine article from 2015 titled, “The Hustlers at Scores.”

“It just seems hypocritical and seems unfair,” Frances said. “If we’re going to make a movie about sex workers, we need to respect sex workers.”

While some sex workers didn’t like the double standard that Hollywood is allotted with Hustlers, Frances said plenty of them also really liked the movie, saying “they were also super excited that there’s a movie that doesn’t kill every stripper in the end.”

“Most movies that feature strippers, there’s always a violent scene against us,” Frances said. “And that’s toxic and a real problem that we face, so it’s not funny, it’s not like a plot device. It’s a very real problem.”

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A Consultant For “Hustlers” Said Sex Workers Feel Conflicted About The Film by Krystie Lee Yandoli

Sept. 19, 2019