“I’m already seeing women in danger of moving into homeless encampments or losing custody of their kids,” said Suzanne Myers, a Seattle-based escort who also does outreach and community organizing. (All of the sex workers quoted in this article are using pseudonyms due to fear of law enforcement attention.) “For single moms or people working to keep their heads above water, having a dry week is difficult. Having two or three will be devastating.”
For sex workers, the coronavirus could not have arrived in Seattle at a worse time.
Since 2015, the city has experienced an unprecedented spike in homelessness and drug addiction — two factors that have increased the number of people selling sex. Then, in 2018, Congress passed two laws (known as SESTA and FOSTA) that banned escort advertisements from the internet, a move that pushed more sex workers into outdoor prostitution. Now, the collapse in demand for sex work due to the coronavirus is driving even greater numbers of people onto the street to make up for the lost income
All of these factors combined are making sex work significantly more dangerous. “When there’s more girls outside and less demand, people start doing things they wouldn’t normally do and end up in situations that are very unsafe,” Myers said.
None of this bodes well for sex workers or for public health in the long term. Myers pointed out that the lack of income and housing support for marginalized groups like sex workers and homeless people will make them more likely to get the disease — and also to spread it.
“If someone starts feeling sick and they only have one appointment that week, they might take it anyway,” she said. “That’s a terrifying thought, but that could mean daycare for their kids or paying their rent.”