In the age of social distancing and mandatory stay-at-home orders, sex workers worldwide have seen their sources of income dry up and disappear. With strip clubs and brothels closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people who engage in sex work have had to find other avenues to continue gaining revenue and building profit. With the need to stay financially afloat, while also not getting infected, has thrown a slew of workers into dire situations. While most regional governments have provided a roadmap to reopening retail stores and restaurants/bars, few have offered any guidance for sex workers safely engaging in their work in this new era. People are afraid of getting infected when visiting a sex worker, and vice versa.
One worker, Estelle Lucas, worries that people will forget her due to the lack of physical contact. She has moved to an online platform, but emphasizes the struggles and newfound issues with building intimacy over the internet. Another sex worker reveals that while online porn and sex work have definitely been on the rise, it isn’t for everyone and can be very difficult to get your foot in that door. She also emphasizes that while COVID has indeed changed her everyday work, “the perfect storm for sex workers was brewing before the coronavirus began spreading.” There is general dehumanizing behavior targeted towards sex workers and it’s hard to anticipate the future of sex work in a post pandemic world. It is safe to assume that a lot of things are going digital, but important to take into account that many mainstream tech spaces, such as Instagram and Twitter, can be very hostile towards sex workers by taking down their content without notice
Another worker from Chicago reveals that working remotely as a sex worker is a “really rough transition”… “It’s definitely not as profitable. The grind is a lot harder.” It involves putting in 70-hour weeks of taking calls and creating content to make, only to earn about half of what they were earning in an hour doing full-service work. While online platforms have been profitable for some, they have been a fool’s errand for others. Additionally, prostitution or investment in sex work has historically been recession proof, as people often turn to it to weather any storm. Yet this time, where in-person contact with people is dangerous, what are sex workers supposed to do?
One sex worker in San Francisco struggling financially with the sharp decline in clients, turned to the Black Sex Worker Collective for aid. This collective works to “advocate for people impacted by labor issues, social stigma, and criminalization, and condemn any attempts at restricting our autonomy and self-determination.” The head of the Black Sex Workers Collective also expressed that she was observing a regular stream of inquiries for full-service sex work, but is worried about the implications. The fear of infection, coupled with the steep decline in regular and safe clients creates a potential road to abuse and violence. “Sex workers who are still active now might be less selective about clients and less firm about their own boundaries.”
It is also important to note that “sex workers are often from groups that are already marginalized economically and socially, such as undocumented migrants, people of color, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people,” which means they generally have less government and community support to fall back on in a crisis. The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe issued a new report urging European governments to institute a moratorium on raids, arrests and prosecutions for sex workers, and to provide financial support for sex workers during this global emergency. The decriminalization of sex work is one of the first steps in ensuring safe working conditions and emergency aid during this pandemic. No worker should have to weigh exposing themselves to a potentially deadly virus or not due to the government’s lack of recognition for the legitimacy of their work.
In a study done, entitled Early Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from the 2020 Guttmacher Survey of Reproductive Health Experiences, it was found that due to different disruption variables, COVID-19 will have “major consequences for reproductive health goals and behaviors, access to care and far beyond,” including exposure to IPV, particularly acts of sexual violence or reproductive control. While this report only collected data from cisgendered women in the United States, the information is still fruitful. It demonstrates that almost all previous large scale disasters have disproportionately affected women’s reproductive care, and COVID-19 is proving to be no different. The report also pays attention to women from already disadvantaged backgrounds, either economically or due to some sort of racial/ethnic bias. We see that “Black women and Hispanic women were more likely than white women to state that because of the pandemic, they wanted to have children later or wanted fewer children,” and that access to in-person health care regarding birth control was harder among “Black and Hispanic women than among white women, and more common among queer women than among straight women.”
It is important to note, additionally, that the recession that has been caused due to the global pandemic has disproportionately affected women, as females account for the 55 percent of the nearly 20.5 million jobs lost in April, being the first time since 1948 that the female unemployment rate has reached double digits. This time though, the people particularly affected are nonwhite, noncis, individuals. The biggest reason for this being “that the industries hardest hit by the pandemic — leisure, hospitality, education and even some parts of health care — are ” typically more nonwhite and female than others.
All of these factors have contributed to women across the country believing that access to contraceptives are more essential now than ever, this opinion being most popularly held by middle aged women and Black women — around 68 percent. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has increasingly highlighted the severe healthcare inequalities present, as Black women are disproportionately finding it harder and harder to obtain contraceptives during this time. Women are both wanting birth control at higher rates than ever, while also having lower incomes and more significant financial burdens than ever, and the racial disparities existing in the childbearing sphere are glaringly present.
Additionally, in a recent Supreme Court decision Trump v. Pennsylvania, they ruled that “regulations allowing employers and universities to opt out of covering birth control in their insurance plans if they cite a religious or moral objection are legal” leaving women to shoulder the full cost of their birth control without any insurance coverage. This devastating opinion will just further disenfranchise women of color and nonbinary and/or gender nonconforming individuals, making it harder for them to get the healthcare they desire within a reasonable budget.
Another form of healthcare disparity that has become obvious during this pandemic is the exclusion of women from clinical trials and the subsequent lack of information about diseases that predominantly affect women. In order to provide equitable and accessible healthcare for everyone it is necessary to build a research agenda that includes women, and women of color. This information is highly important, as it can lead to revealing information, such as the disturbing trends that indicate that women of color are more likely to contract the virus than say, white women. This also has an impact on maternal health, as studies have shown that “Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black women were disproportionately likely to be affected by COVID-19 during pregnancy” and that “even before this pandemic, Black women were three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and at increased risk of severe maternal morbidity.” All of this indicates a serious and underlying problem that needs addressing.
The disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity in women of color versus white women are stark and disturbing. While the pandemic may have highlighted it, the public health crisis affecting women of color in the U.S. has existed long before the pandemic, “specifically, the maternal health crisis that has led to Black and Indigenous women dying at three to four times the rate of white women.” Now, in the age of COVID, women are less and less able to achieve the healthcare they desire, yet the demand has continued to rise as women are looking to put off having children.
Recently, accessing economic profit has been difficult for the Black community, especially Black owned businesses. In a NPR podcast addressing the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black Americans, it was found that “overall, about 38% of small business owners who applied for government aid reported receiving it, only 12% of Black and Latino owned businesses reported getting the aid they asked for.”
While the COVID-19 Pandemic has largely affected Black communities and subsequently Black businesses, the conversation has also taken a slight shift in recent weeks following the national outcry against systemic racism and violence against Black Communities. Some Black female entrepreneurs have conflicting thoughts on the matter though. Christina Blacken — founder and creator of The New Quo — reflected on this shift, emphasising that while positive, “‘Supporting us means seeing us as equals and experts and not assuming our skills, services, and creations are less than, which has been the common narrative when discussing supporting Black ideas, creativity, and business.’”
It’s not about helping just to help, it’s about listening to Black stories and “doing the work it takes to establish this value as a given, so that Black business owners can have equal access to resources and networks that help their companies to flourish.” Some Black female entrepreneurs have shared their story and insight, and offer advice about how to potentially change the game. Alexandria Carroll, founder and CEO of License to Drift, and professional travel agency, discusses childhood experiences that have shaped her entrepreneurial mindset. Her experience with ignorant Americans and elsewhere highlighted the need she saw in cross cultural exchange and experience, leading to the development of License to Drift.
These women also acknowledge the economic access they are lacking because they are Black. Wadeeha Jackson, managing Partner at Cowry Crypt Asset Management LLC, states that a growing problem in recent years is that, “statistically, Black entrepreneurs represent 1% of covered venture-backed capital,” obviously leading to discriminatory lending practices. COVID-19 has only exacerbated this already huge problem.
Economic barriers are a significant challenge for many who already feel that finances are overwhelming, and these barriers in turn can create additional challenges, often related to health. Low-income households, especially people that live and work in areas where there is a lack of employment or educational resources, often experience a lack of access to healthy lifestyle options.
Some solutions to these financial disparities present are: introducing financial education as a model in non-profit organizations towards building investment capital, developing a business and innovative strategy towards achieving the aims and objectives of the organizations, using capacity building as a strategy for growth, and adopting a competitive strategy that involves a mix of uniqueness, value and impact.
Lisa Price the owner of Carol’s Daughter, built her multimillion-dollar hair and skincare product line, out of nothing. She got there in part by refusing to strive for impossible perfection, and instead embracing the good times and bad. “We think we have to be perfect. We think we have to get it all done — but we don’t,” she says.
Amber Williams, founder Punkyflair, launched her branding consultancy with the idea that stories, not sales pitches, are the best way to reach customers. Her strategies have helped other people of color find voices for their brands — and embrace their true selves. She encourages Black women entrepreneurs in particular to authentically include themselves in their businesses’ narratives.
Rita Robert Otu, founder of Beau Haven Farms is helping rural women grow and sell vitamin A-rich cassava. “Our goal is to encourage and support a new generation of entrepreneurial farmers,” she says. By teaching women these skills, she provides a way for them to support themselves and their families.
Lovern Gordon, former pageant winner, launched Love Life Now to unite communities against domestic violence and break down the isolation that survivors like her have experienced. She also raises money to help survivors start their lives anew.
As our nation works to address the current and future costs of the COVID‐19 pandemic on the broader society, data shows that Communities of Color have been disproportionally impacted with: higher contraction and death rates; significant economic hardship and an increased vulnerability to domestic violence and sexual assault. Disparities in the incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault within Communities of Color existed prior to the emergence of COVID‐19. However, the current pandemic intensifies those disparities given that Women of Color often have a higher vulnerability to incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault during times of economic uncertainty. This alarming reality underscores the need for community-based culturally specific Communities of Color organizations to be a critical part of the short and long‐term response to the COVID public health and economic crisis.
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Following the emergence of COVID-19 in the United States, the pandemic has spread across the nation with devastating and life-altering effects. The human toll -psychologically, physically, and financially necessitates a response matching the gravity of this global public health crisis. While states and localities have sought to mitigate the impact of this pandemic, it is important to address the risks and barriers facing survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The heightened risks, increased barriers of reporting to law enforcement, and increased calls to culturally specific community-based programs underscores the unique challenges faced by domestic violence and sexual assault survivors from Communities of Color, who are often marginalized in systemic and service responses.
As the nation races to address the current and future costs of this pandemic, recent data shows that Communities of Color have been disparately impacted. According to the latest research by APM Research Lab, COVID-19 related deaths in the Black community are more than double that of other racial/ethnic groups. In Louisiana, African Americans accounted for 70% of COVID-19 deaths, while comprising 33% of the population. In Michigan, they accounted for 40% of deaths even though they are 14% of the population. In Iowa, Latinos accounted for 17% of COVID confirmed cases, while comprising only 6% of the population. In Alabama, the Asian community accounted for 4% of deaths compared to being 1% of the population. *The response to our communities has been especially inadequate. Higher infection and mortality rates in Communities of Color are indicative of long-term systemic inequities, including access to healthcare, wealth and wage gaps, the digital divide, lack of language access, housing disparities, and food deserts, among other things.
Despite some funding for sexual assault and domestic violence programs, there is a dearth of funding for under-resourced culturally specific programs that are a lifeline for survivors in their communities. Funding for Communities of Color was nominal before COVID-19, and is very insufficient now for a short and long-term response to the public health and economic crisis at the intersection with domestic violence and sexual assault. These organizations provide more holistic services; provide critical language access for survivors who are limited English proficient; assist survivors who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID as essential workers and also at higher risk of unemployment; provide food; and increase access to other life-saving resources. These organizations are having to do this with limited access to resources at a time of greater demand.
In order to truly address the impact of COVID-19 on ALL domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, there must be funding directed to culturally specific organizations that are developed by and for our communities. Communities of Color must lead the response in our own communities. Our nation cannot maintain the status quo that has marginalized the voices of those who are at the greatest risk; our collective health and long-term well-being depends on it.
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*Note reference below
- Hlvinka, E. “COVID-19 Killing African Americans at Shocking Rates.” Wildly disproportionate mortality highlights need to address longstanding inequities. May, 2020, https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/covid19/86266; See also www.covidtracking.com/race.
The National Resource Center for Reaching Victims conducted a series of listening sessions to unearth the impact the COVID-19 health crisis is having on underserved victims of crime and better resource the crime victim services field to respond to those needs. This brief summarizes the issues and strategies that emerged from listening sessions on girls and women of color survivors.
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Widespread school closures have thrown a wrench in the gears of education this year, but kids can still have fun learning thanks to a number of free online resources… even if it’s from their own homes.
FinanceBuzz is a great site to find a list of resources for online learning materials. To check out these resources and for more information about FinanceBuzz, visit www.financebuzz.com.
Colleges and universities across the United States and around the world are scrambling to keep their students, faculty, and staff healthy, safe, and educated during the COVID-19 pandemic. As experts on the daily crises that derail #RealCollege students and prevent them from completing their degrees our team at the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice offers the following considerations and resources to support your work.
For more information about The Hope Project and their COVID-19 resources, click here.