How are women in prostitution and pornography affected by covid-19?

The corona virus affects everyone. However, some are more vulnerable than others. The recommendations directed at women in prostitution highlight a lack of knowledge about their reality and the rising demand for pornography can have terrible consequences.

The European Network of Migrant Women has written an article on how migrant women are affected by the ongoing pandemic and highlights, among other things, the situation of women in prostitution and pornography. These women are extremely vulnerable because of the virus and the strategies used to fight the infection. In addition to the extremely high risk of infection from the virus itself, they are also more severely affected by the consequences of virus management due to their gender. The decision on social distancing means that sex purchases must stop. Women in prostitution come in contact with several men, and many of the men force them into unprotected sexual acts. Some of these carry the virus.

An illustrative example of how women in prostitution are encouraged to protect themselves is that AMMAR, a trade union in Argentina for people who sell sex, recommended women in prostitution to wash their hands for more than twenty seconds and refrain from meeting men who are showing symptoms or have recently been abroad. Here we want to make a comparison that we are aware of is absurd. In health care there are now requirements for protection with masks, protective clothing and gloves to minimize the risk of infection. By comparison, the exposure to women in prostitution becomes apparent. No one would be allowed to get closer than one and a half meters. The recommended health measures in prostitution are directed at women, not men. It is not the lack of hand sanitizer that creates the greatest risk, but the punter with his right to be sexually satisfied at all costs and the frequency of men’s violence against women, which often comes to outlet during sex purchases.

The approaches vary between different countries. The Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, the countries with the largest regulated markets for prostitution in Europe, have announced that all brothels must close. For decades, campaigns have been conducted with the message that sexual satisfaction is not a human right. Covid-19 got through what these campaigns have been aiming for in just a few days. Even the most regulated countries are clear in their message: men can manage to meet their “needs” without purchasing sex. This is something that RealStars and similar organizations have systematically advocated for many years.

Nothing is simple about the global system of sexual exploitation. As it is the case with every prostitution market in the EU, it is mostly made of migrant women – either from outside or within the EU. The majority of them are controlled by pimps, either on site or remotely. However, there are also women who are said to “choose” to sell sex and in discussions about prostitution, the argument often states that it is “your own choice”. When we focus on the choice, the responsibility is placed on the women themselves, they have chosen to sell sex and all negative experiences are thus self-inflicted. Of course, it is a myth. Statistics show that almost everyone who is in prostitution is in a vulnerable situation, the majority are financially vulnerable, have an abusive background or suffer from mental illness.

In some countries, prostitution is considered a “job” but not even in those countries where prostitution is regulated by the state, women in prostitution are registered as workers, which means that these women have neither access to health care, insurance nor welfare benefits. Thereby, they are in an extremely vulnerable situation unless the state offers immediate and long-term support to prevent continued vulnerability. Unless pimps and sex buyers are held responsible for pushing, forcing and exploiting women into prostitution and women are not offered exit programs to be able to get out of prostitution, the corona will have dreadful consequences to a group that is already extremely vulnerable.

Corona has led to a global increase in the demand for pornography, which has led to new ways to capitalize on vulnerable women. PornHub, the world’s largest online source for pornography, contains countless films featuring recorded abuse of women. During the pandemic, PornHub has run the Stayhomehub campaign with “philanthropic” offers for free premium upgrades, while at the same time they are being charged for human trafficking.

In corona times, people spend more time online than usual. This also applies to men who demand sex purchases and pornography which increases the exposure to women in pornography. The psychological effect of isolation risks exacerbating men’s behavior and leading to more women being afflicted to meet demand. The pandemic means that more women who have not been exposed before are feared to be so because of the its consequences, for example, single mothers, refugees, and the unemployed being forced into exploitation.