The coronavirus crisis and associated self-isolation measures have created a strain on sex industry workers around the world. In countries where prostitution is decriminalised by the government, sex workers are left especially vulnerable due to their inability to apply for any financial assistance from the state.
Many sex workers in Canada are scared of applying for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) scheme aimed at helping those who lost their income during the pandemic, due to the illicit status of their work or unwillingness to risk their clients’ confidentiality, the Huffington Post revealed, citing the report by the Canadian Press.
While it is not illegal to sell sexual services in Canada, it is illegal to purchase them, advertise these kinds of activities, or live off the material benefits of sex work. According to Jenn Clamen, who is a national co-ordinator of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform rights group, these provisions potentially criminalise sex work for all the participants, as they are not immune from arrest due to their activity.
Thus, many prostitutes either do not qualify for CERB, as they did not make at least $5,000 in 2019, or are simply scared of filling in their tax forms to claim the benefit.
“The CERB only allows for people who are documented in some way to apply for it, because it means you have to file your taxes next year, it means you have to be in the tax system, it means you have to be accounted for in that way,” Clamen explains.
Some of them were also not willing to set up their clients by revealing their bank details, which can be required when filing the relevant tax forms, as they can be arrested for using the services.
The experts from the industry also note that many people resort to prostitution as a supplement to government benefits, including social assistance or disability payments, and risk losing the state support they already have if they publicly declare their additional income, and thus cannot apply for CERB either.
“If they are folks who are on ministry benefits and also working and they maybe don’t claim all of what they’re making, then they are not eligible for CERB, but nobody who’s on disability or welfare right now is being given enough money to actually take care of their health,” says Kit Rothschild, co-ordinator from the Pace Society group.
As a result, many sex workers who have been left without an income during the pandemic, with no food or money to pay for their rent, have no chance to claim any state support. Experts believe that prostitutes were now forced to “take work that they wouldn’t normally take”, facing increased dangers and risks, and being policed even more while working the streets.
According to Valerie Scott, a sex worker from Toronto and part of the advocacy group Sex Professionals of Canada, the industry was “reeling” during the health crisis as people have been left especially vulnerable and ignored by the Canadian government.
Many groups have been pushing the authorities to introduce universal benefits or some form of aid to help those not qualifiable for the current financial assistance.
According to the recent data from Johns Hopkins University, there are around 36,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Canada, which have left 1,625 people dead.