The first coronavirus lockdown took quite a toll on sex workers. Many of them sought help from FIZ, which is an association that deals with human trafficking and woman migration. According to director Lelia Hunziker, there was a lot of violence going on against prostitutes during the pandemic.
The good thing is that they got a lot of attention in the form of good advice as well. If we take a look at the numbers, it turns out that twice as many women had been advised by the FIZ in 2020 than in 2019. A large number of these women were sex workers.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has put many of them into an existential crisis. Many of them live in suboptimal circumstances, to say the least and without any savings available. The situation is even worse for those who don’t have any acquaintances to rely on.
This was all the result of the lockdown that came into effect in March, banning sex work altogether. Their source of income has gone, while they are increasingly concerned about their family members and their own health.
How Did the Situation Affect the Prostitutes in Question?
For many women in Switzerland, it is not so straightforward to get state aid that would compensate for their loss of earnings. After all, there are many exceptions who are not in-born citizenz but rather temporary residents. This includes a 90-day reporting process given that they have a work permit, which many of them don’t have.
Although many prostitutes have the right for social assistance, they simply don’t want to go to the social welfare office. The reason behind is that they woul get in trouble with the law. Consequences include getting their permanent residence permit downgraded to a simple residence permit.
In other cases, they can even decide not to extend their residence permit because of dependency on social welfare. Sex workers deny the aid because they don’t want these complications and also want to keep their right to live in Switzerland.
Not to speak of the fact that sex work is still stigmatized there and women don’t want to expose themselves to such stigmatization.
What Alternatives do Women Have in Switzerland?
When the lockdown kicked in, many sex workers decided to travel back to their own country as soon as the borders allow it. There was also a large number of women during that time who decided to stay in Switzerland because their family at home needed support.
In the latter case, they looked for opportunities to start working illegally. They took the risk in the hopes of making some money while the regulations are in effect. Others started to offer massages and physiotherapy, as both were allowed during Coronavirus.
The Dangers of Illegality
Illegality means that sex workers are not protected anymore. They can be exploited and violence can emerge as well in many cases. When a customer meets an illegal prositute, the advantage is on his side. Bargaining, violence and forcing unprotected sex can be all part of the equation.
While sex work is banned, nothing can stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Many illegal sex workers end up being pregnant or victims of aggression.
Was it Even a Good Idea to Ban Sex Work?
When a pandemic arises such as Covid-19, it becomes very hard to determine what is best. Either way, preventing the spread of the virus was the most important thing to focus on. Work that includes close physical contact simply can’t be allowed because it only results in the rapid spread of the virus.
The Coronavirus measures were fair at first, but only until the beginning of the second wave. That is when the inequality kicked in, as physiotherapy, cosmetics and massage were allowed, whereas prostitution was still banned in some areas.
It was not a decision based on reasonable arguments, but rather one that had a moral and ideological base.
Which is Riskier During Covid, Having Sex or Having a Manicure?
The presupposition that it is easier to get infected by covid while having sex than while getting a manicure has not been studied. There is simply no evidence. Also, Switzerland was rather adamant about protecting the paysex scene before.
As long as it was legal, they allowed prostitutes to work independently while the authorities had full control. Things got to the point where most of the public has accepted sex work as a job that livelihoods depend on. This is not only true of the sex workers themselves but also of their families.
Did Sex Workers Get Help During the Covid Crisis?
The association for human trafficking and women migration (FIZ) has informed sex workers about the state support payments they are eligible to. Then, in June, sex work was allowed again, which is when they informed women about the protective measures they need to follow.
However, official regulations have changed constantly canton to canton. As a result, many prostitutes have called the association, asked for advice and didn’t get the right information. It was difficult to keep track of everything.
Were Sex Workers Able to Get Financial Aid from the Association?
During the first wave of the pandemic, the FIZ managed to put together an emergency aid. They have paid out 200 to 500 francs to sex workers in need. It didn’t take long until the situation got out of hand and they weren’t able to handle it on their own.
That is when they got partnered up with other organizations. This resulted in setting up a national coordination office with the support of the Federal Office of Public Health. Their donation campaign started in April 2020 thanks to their emergency fund.
The Swiss Solidarity was another supporter that enabled them to support prostitutes with advice, food, emergency aid, medication and emergency accommodation in the last few months.
Is Sex Work Approached Differently as a Result of the Pandemic?
At first, there was noticeable solidarity towards sex workers when organizations realized that donations are needed for them. When they reported about prostitution, they did so in connection with other industries that were affected by Covid.
This got to the public and people thought that sex work is just another job that livelihoods depend on. The solidarity surrounding sex work in Switzerland encouraged the organization to fight for the rights of prostitutes, thus making the situation better.
While you are here, read more about the current state of prostitution in Germany: Prostitutes Allowed to Go Back to Work in Some States in Germany
Also check out our latest article about sex work in Vienna: News Outlets Claiming that Prostitution is Allowed Again