COVID-19 and its impact on sex workers in Europe – Netherlands, Germany, Austria, UK, Ireland & Russia, Switzerland & Belgium
We are gathering information from all over Europe, but the situation is overwhelming. Please help us by contributing particularly information focusing on migrant sex workers!
THE NETHERLANDS: Fight for inclusion into the social security net
The Coronavirus has brought everything to a standstill. Sex workers have also been asked to temporarily stop their activities including their work. Because of this, many sex workers have no financial income. Another group of migrant sex workers is living (and therefore working) illegally in the Netherlands. They are not eligible for any official help. Their wish, and that of many migrants with residence/work permits, is now to return to their home countries. In the meantime, borders within and especially to outside the EU have been closed – whoever didn’t leave in time or didn’t have the money to leave, is now trapped. SWexperitise is pressing for the inclusion of sex workers into general state support schemes that are being open to similar professions. Many questions have been addressed as of 21st April 2020 following this effort to gain answers with information available here
Information for sex workers on income support
Below is a summary of what’s currently known about possibilities to get financial assistance as a sex worker in the Netherlands. This mainly applies to sex workers who work through the opting-in arrangement (most sex clubs and escort agencies work with ‘opting-in’, in which the club/agency pays income and VAT taxes on behalf of the sex worker, but which does not give sex workers access to social security or labour law protection and sex workers from other EU countries). SWexpertise are trying to find out more information through contacts with municipalities, members of parliament and the Immigration Services. As soon as they know more, they will add the information at their website.
Bbz: Extra income support for independent entrepreneurs
The government has set up a special emergency scheme for independent entrepreneurs: the Temporary Social Assistance Scheme for Self-Employed Persons (Bbz). We assume that self-employed sex workers can also make use of this scheme. The regulation can be found here
The Bbz is a temporary measure to support independent entrepreneurs, including self-employed persons. The measure is implemented by the municipalities. Self-employed persons can receive additional income support for living expenses for a period of three months, via an accelerated procedure. The benefit supplements the income up to the social minimum. This is maximum 1,500 Euros net per month, depending on the individual (family) situation. It does not have to be repaid and there is no capital or partner income test. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment still needs to elaborate the measure. The measure will take effect retroactively as of 1 March 2020 and will last (at least) until 1 June 2020.
Minister Koolmees of Social Affairs said in a press conference on 17 March that the Bbz-scheme will be further elaborated and will probably be announced this week. Here is the link to the documents
Requests for special assistance through the Bbz, the Temporary Social Assistance Provision for Self-Employed Persons must be made at the municipality where you live. On the SWExpertise website there is an info sheet on this with two letters written by Humanitas to support sex workers who apply for the Bbz. There are two different letters: a letter for sex workers who work as freelancers and a letter for sex workers who work with opting-in. Maybe you can also use them in your own municipality when applying for income support.
Resources for support in applying to Bbz:
P&G 292 Amsterdam
Call: 020-5318600 Mail: email@example.com
Shop Den Haag
Call: 070-3614747 (leave a message on the answering machine and they will call you back)
Door2Door & Prostitutie Maatschappelijk Werk van Stichting Humanitas Rotterdam
Belle (hulp aan sekswerkers) Utrecht
Call: 06 53 71 18 79 Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prostitutie Maatschappelijk Werk Tilburg Call: 06 58 98 35 93 Mail: email@example.com
SWexpertise, 21 March 2020
GERMANY: Differences in federal states
The following refers to information from March 16th, 2020, onwards. Germany is a federal state and emergency support measures as they are needed now are extremely scattered. The information given by BesD are constantly being updated. The federalism has also led to confusion as in some communities where sex work locations were closed earlier than in others, and restrictions are stricter in some places than in others to this day.
BesD | the Professional Association for Erotic and Sexual Service Providers, brings information regarding the consequences of the Corona Virus for sex workers and the sex work industry in Germany.
Stuttgart was among one of the first communities that officially banned most sorts of leisure industries, like clubs, bars, museums, public baths, sports clubs – and sex work locations like brothels or strip clubs. Remarkably all kinds of sex work are forbidden, inclusive of independent sex work. The closure is set for the next three months – until mid-June – indoors as well as outdoors, in the whole State of Baden-Württenberg. By this, Stuttgart, the capital of B-W, has to date introduced the most extreme sex work ban following the Coronavirus outbreak. The enforcement of the ban by the police meant police raids in the middle of the night to check for persons present on brothel premises. Sex workers who had been allowed to stay in their workplaces without pay were expelled on the streets. This led to desperate situations as some did not have enough money to travel home when the ban was swiftly announced, or are not sure if they can get back given the travel restrictions.
All sex work venues were officially closed, indoors as well as outdoors, with no provision for reopening. The sex workers’ led organisation Hydra closed the advice centre and the cafe Hydra until further notice and offer online counselling. Up-to-date information will be available on Hydra’s website.
All indoor sex work venues were officially closed with no provision for reopening. Many brothels allowed sex workers who work and live there to stay in the premises for the time being.
ESSEN, HAMBURG, KIEL
All sex work venues were officially closed, indoors as well as outdoors, with no provision for reopening.
AUSTRIA: COVID-19, sex work and precarity
Updated 19 March 2020
In the collective effort to contain COVID-19, sex workers in Austria face a specific set of obstacles: the general impacts of a nationwide lockdown, the especially vulnerable position of migrant sex workers, and the interruption of mandatory health checks.
Like all non-essential goods and service providers, any kind of brothel is closed for the time being. There are yet no official regulations about individual sex work (in the streets where that is legal, and otherwise in clients’ homes and hotel rooms). But the lockdown also means that people are only allowed to leave their houses for essential shopping or doctors’ visits or taking a walk alone or with the people lived with.
Help line with up to 300 calls daily
The closing of workplaces, the massive decrease in clients, and general worries are high in sex workers in Austria. The Sexworker Forum (sexworker.at) and PiA Salzburg are running a help line on which they are answering up to 300 calls daily. Questions range from general questions about Coronavirus (many sex workers state that they are afraid to call other hotlines because of stigma), questions for money to afford the travel home, requests for support in family tragedies (“Can my children come to me?”, domestic violence due to the quasi curfew). Red Edition, who work mostly with migrant sex workers, are also running a helpline and can be reached on +436763802731
Migrant sex workers stuck in the country
One of the issues specific to Austria is that a vast majority of sex workers are migrants, many undocumented, many from Romania and Bulgaria. For days on end, the border towards Hungary was closed so that Bulgarian and Romanian citizens couldn’t legally go home. They were stuck at their workplaces which they couldn’t leave due to the general restrictions of movement in the lockdown. Landlords have been asking the help line for help because despite letting the sex workers stay for free, they didn’t know how to care for their basic needs like food. Now the border is partially open, but travel routes are limited and more expensive since bus lines have stopped their service. Anyone still in the country faces great precarity.
Mandatory health checks interrupted
Another specific situation is the requirement of regular (every 6 weeks), mandatory health checks to work legally in Austria as a sex worker. The institutions doing these examinations have closed down for the public, this way every day making more and more sex workers illegal if they want to meet clients. As per now, the mandatory health checks have been suspended until mid June, which will soon translate into a total sex work ban in Austria.
UK & IRELAND | Loss of Income and Uncertainty for Sex Workers
Income generation for sex workers in all areas of the industry in the UK and Ireland have dramatically reduced. Clients have reduced in number, workplaces are being closed down and sex workers are increasingly worried about meeting demands financially supporting themselves and their families.
Many sex workers are single parents and amidst school closures are increasingly worried about feeding and caring for children over this period. Many sex workers in the UK and Ireland are migrant and have no recourse to public funds. Even for non-migrant sex workers, there appears to be no way to apply for the emergency assistance schemes available to other self employed workers, given the precarity of sex work and the non recognition of sex work as work. Street based workers are particularly at risk of poor health and the imminent lockdown is extremely worrying for people in temporary accodation. People are being turned away from hostels if they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and sex workers in this situation will likely take more risks to secure basic income in this time.
Amidst unprecedented times with the outbreak of COVID-19, sex worker led projects and organisations have been trying to respond with meeting immediate financial and basic needs alongside the development of online and telephone support systems. SWARM, Umbrella Lane and SWAI have all organised fundraisers to create emergency funds for sex workers to access. The English Collective of Prostitutes have also released a powerful statement challenging the lack of protections for sex workers and other precarious workers during this crisis.
On 16 March the Swiss Federal Council decided to take measures to fight the spread of Covid19 in Switzerland. As a consequence, all sex work was being prohibited throughout Switzerland.
A few days later, PROKORE, a national network to defend the rights of sex workers, quickly established a national coordination office funded by the ministry of health. The aim of this «troubleshooter project» was to support and coordinate the work of specialised agencies and counselling offices by gathering and providing information and guidelines, establishing a fund to provide emergency aid, work with media and engage in networking and lobbying activities to put the tearing situation of sex workers in Switzerland on the political agenda.
The work is ongoing. You can find more information on www.sexwork.ch
We will continue to update information as it is received particularly as it relates to migrant sex workers. If you have any further information please email firstname.lastname@example.org