A number of brothel owners across Sydney have come together to call on the state of NSW to lift the “unconscionable” bonk ban that has wreaked havoc on the sex work industry amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As beauty and wellness services like massages and even tattoos prepare to reopen as restrictions begin to ease, the sex work industry has found themselves left out in the cold as the government refuses to lift the ban.
17 brothels across Sydney have called on the government to do something, penning a letter to NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, the Daily Telegraph reports.
“If the government deemed it appropriate to allow a trial period for reopening, we believe our industry would understand that if an infection with COVID-19 was traced to an individual at that sex services premises, that venue would be required to cease trading while investigations were in train as in any other industry or workplace including as happens in schools,” spokesperson for the group Julie Bates said, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The various brothels across Sydney have outlined a plan that would see them attempt to prove that they’re just as safe as other personal services. The list of potential harm reduction strategies includes forcing clients to download the COVIDSafe app and banning group sexual encounters.
“Our mitigation measures and reopening safety plans range from limiting the number of people on the premises at any one time, isolation of clients on arrival and questioning their recent travel and health status, separate rooms for service providers, cleaning processes and hygiene requirement for both clients and service providers, training of all personnel, information sharing with clients, limited service time and specific services to be allowed, attention to airflow by opening windows and limiting air conditioning through to record keeping for contact tracing purposes if needed,” Bates said.
There are at least 100 completely legal brothels operating in Sydney (prior to the forced closure), all of which pay taxes and help to fuel the state’s economy and boost employment.
“We are a legitimate industry and contribute to the state’s revenue source and provide significant employment and opportunities for people to earn income — including receptionists, shift managers, cleaners and service providers,” Ma Belle Cheri owner Kate told the Daily Telegraph.
The sex work industry in Australia already follows safe practices to avoid the spread of STIs such as HIV, with the 17 brothels in question asserting that they have “over 30-plus years responding to the HIV pandemic as partners in prevention with no recorded cases of HIV from sex worker to client.”
In addition to the impact on the businesses, the forced closure has also rocked sex workers on a personal level, with many of them scared to apply for the JobKeeper payment because they were concerned about discussing their career with Centrelink staff.
“Coronavirus has had a devastating impact. The varying legality of sex work across Australia, the inability of some workers to access government support and the stigma attached to the industry has made it difficult for some to access financial support,” Scarlet Alliance CEO Jules Kim told News.com.au.
Regardless of your stance on sex work as a legitimate industry, these businesses pose no higher risk of transmission than other personal services like massage, piercing and tattoo parlours. So why are they still being forced to close their doors when industries with a similar amount of physical contact are preparing to reopen?
If you’re interested in educating yourself on the sex work industry, we sat down with a sex worker to ask all the questions you might not feel comfortable asking yourself.