Sex workers' clients showed 'impatience' and 'stupidity' under lockdown - Prostitutes' Collective

Dame Catherine Healy.
Dame Catherine Healy. Photo credit: YouTube/Global Women's Strike

Some clients of sex workers have been "difficult" about the industry being shut during lockdown, the Prostitutes Collective says.

Sex workers are allowed back on the job after alert level 2 guidelines were agreed to by officials and the Prostitutes' Collective to keep workers and their clients safe.

National coordinator Dame Catherine Healy said she had spoken to many sex workers around the country and all of them had been lobbied by clients about returning to work during alert levels 3 and 4.

"There was an impatience there coming in from the clients or a stupidity - I'm not sure which."

She said it was just a small number of clients who were putting pressure on sex workers.

She is relieved the industry has got approval for level 2 because clients may have flouted the law, especially with regard to contact tracing, if sex workers were not allowed to work.

"It was felt that there would be a lot of belligerence if sex workers were forced to hang on until level 1. In fact, we felt it would be entirely unrealistic and the harm that could result in terms of contact tracing.

"The important thing is sex workers aren't going to be in breach of the law."

Dame Catherine said the rules are similar to most other businesses - it is about good hygiene practices and keeping records for contact tracing.

In addition, the Prostitutes Collective has issued other guidelines, including no kissing of clients and avoiding other people's breath.

Some sex workers would also wear masks and they were being encouraged to adopt other methods, such as fantasy sessions, that did not involve physical contact.

In brothels each sex worker will have their own room, they will work fewer hours and be careful about social distancing.

"I think there's a great deal of goodwill. People were incredibly grateful that they're allowed to return to work like other workers in the country."

Negotiations about the industry reopening started early with Government agencies, including the COVID-19 committee, health authorities, police and WorkSafe.

She said while she is concerned about the transmission of COVID-19 in this context, she believed the decision was the right one because she didn't want sex workers to be in a position where they couldn't work.

During the lockdown, some sex workers applied for assistance under the wage subsidy scheme but there is a wariness about declaring being a sex worker inside a Government system, in cases of issues arising such as custody of children and tax.

"Others were not worried about those matters at all and were pleased to receive the assistance."

Dame Catherine is expecting a busy time for sex workers. A common concern in many countries, including New Zealand, is that they are not working with enough clients. The recent shutdown may change this, she said.

"The number one thing they all say is it's not busy enough... it's the universal complaint."