Strip Clubs And Brothels Claim 'Moral Discrimination' Over Indefinite COVID Bans
Sex workers are confused and upset at being left out of the government's 'roadmap' out of COVID-19 restrictions.
Under the three-stage framework unveiled by Scott Morrison last week, businesses like cafes, gyms, cinemas and pubs were given rough estimates on when and how coronavirus restrictions may ease.
The three stages will gradually be adopted by individual state and territory governments by July, with 850,000 Australians projected to return to work.
But among those still in employment limbo are sex workers, who have been specifically left out of the roadmap.
Strip clubs and brothels are the only businesses specifically listed "to remain closed" even in stage three, prompting a backlash from the Scarlet Alliance, the peak body representing Australian sex workers.
"Sex workers have been taking precautions since way before restrictions came into place, like enhanced screening, security and hygiene. It's extremely unfortunate that has been ignored by the government," Scarlet Alliance CEO Jules Kim told 10 daily.
"It's extremely discriminatory. It's a stigma."
Kim and others in the industry who spoke to 10 daily were upset that while they will remain shut, other businesses with potential skin-to-skin contact -- such as waxing, massage, tattoo, bathhouse and sauna businesses -- will be allowed to open by stage three.
"We hoped this COVID-19 outbreak wouldn't be used as an excuse to turn back progressive gains made in sex worker legislation, but it's hard to see this as anything but discrimination, considering similar businesses are allowed," Kim said.
While the federal framework singles out brothels and strip clubs specifically, other parts of the industry are also essentially closed.
In Queensland, for instance, legally allowed "sole operator sex workers" are banned during the pandemic after being classed as "non-essential".
This means that not only employees at brothels and clubs are out of work, but also sex workers who are allowed to operate in private homes or hotels.
Natasha, a Brisbane-based sex worker, estimated she lost 85 per cent of her income "overnight" when the rules changed.
"The uncertainty really affects your mental health. It's really unfair we don't have an end date," Natasha told 10 daily.
"The government keeps talking about getting people back to work, but we've been left out."
Kim said while some sex workers qualified for JobKeeper or JobSeeker payments, many did not.
Scarlet Alliance is running an online fundraiser to aid workers left without government assistance, with one surpassing $52,000 in donations.
Natasha said she normally "tours" nationwide to visit clients and offer services in different states.
Due to border closures, she can't leave Queensland and cannot operate her normal business due to restrictions.
She, like many other sex workers, have started to offer online services -- such as photos and video calls -- to make some money. But she said her income has plummeted.
"We're all just left not knowing how long it might be. The government is giving other industries a date to start planning toward, but no information for us," Natasha said.
"That's the hardest bit for me."
Kim said adult industry venues had taken cleaning and hygiene very seriously even before coronavirus, with Scarlet Alliance noting "sustained low rates of HIV and STIs among sex workers".
She said standard procedures included regular washing of surfaces and requiring both clients and workers to shower before and after appointments. She added that operators would be willing to offer further "enhanced" hygiene measures.
Natasha said she and other sex workers also incorporated coronavirus health advice into their work before they were shut down, such as 'screening' clients to ensure they didn't have virus symptoms or hadn't recently returned from overseas.
The Department of Health said "adult entertainment venues and brothels" would "be unable to guarantee social distancing requirements because of the activities which are inherent in their operations".
A spokesperson told 10 daily that federal health experts had recommended such venues remain closed beyond stage three, but that authorities had "not proposed a date for future restriction easing".
A Queensland Health spokesperson said while venues like saunas, clubs and massage parlours could open subject to capacity limits and distancing rules, "it is unlikely brothels would be able to comply" with such restrictions.
The state's rules, however, do allow sex workers to provide "video streaming or phone chat services".
Victorian state MP Fiona Patten, a sex industry advocate and former sex worker herself, said it was "entirely unfair" and made "absolutely no sense" to keep sex workers shut down.
"These are legal, regulated businesses, and they should be treated as such," she told 10 daily.
"My concern is if you push the legal businesses out, that vacuum will be filled ... you will see the illegal market gain a greater foothold."
Patten said the brothel and strip club operators she had talked to were willing to carry out temperature checks on entry and increase cleaning protocols.
"Sex workers have been very successful for a long time in keeping themselves safe and protected. There's no reason to think that won't happen now," she said.
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