Advocacy group calls for emergency income for sex workers

"We need action to protect the health of the general public as well as the women and young people currently in the sex trade."
"We need action to protect the health of the general public as well as the women and young people currently in the sex trade." Photo credit: Getty

A prostitute advocacy group is calling for the Government to protect sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring they receive emergency income.

A spokesperson for Wahine Toa Rising Aotearoa, a survivor-led organisation that advocates for support and exit services for woman and children in the sex trade in New Zealand, says the Government needs to take immediate action.

"We need action to protect the health of the general public as well as the women and young people currently in the sex trade," says Ally-Marie Diamond. 

"Many women in the sex trade don't have the records and evidence that the Government requires to show what their earnings have been before having access to financial support, and many women in the sex trade in New Zealand are not New Zealand residents, therefore, may think they do not qualify for WINZ Payments."

She says for some workers who have been trying to get WINZ payments their calls have been going unanswered due to the increase in people calling for help during the pandemic.

"Women who are trying to apply for WINZ payments are advising us that they just can’t get through. One woman in the sex trade has been trying for four days and still has not spoken to a WINZ representative."

The New Zealand Prostitute's Collective has advised sex workers to take up "cam work" - online prostitution - as an alternative to the dole.

But Diamond says those options are unrealistic and dangerous for sex workers. Instead, she wants the Government to set up a dedicated phone number.

"The Government needs to set up an emergency service, a hotline perhaps, so women and young people in the sex trade can have direct and immediate access to financial assistance," she says. 

"That way they don’t feel like the only choice they have is to remain active in the sex trade to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. The Government needs to be supporting them, so they are not putting themselves, or others at risk.

"This is an emergency. The incentive to stay active in the sex trade needs to be removed. The Government must act now."

She says if these measures aren't set up, prostitutes are likely to continue to work despite the lockdown.

Women working in an Australian "massage parlour" were recently fined $1000 each when police found they were still operating.

Diamond says the Government needs to act now otherwise "similar things may happen in New Zealand".

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