Women working in the sex industry, forced to work in the midst of a pandemic for lack of financial assistance, are more than ever exposed to the dangers of the profession.
“There are a lot of people who turn a blind eye to this. They don’t know the girl walking past their house isn’t able to pay her rent right now because she isn’t selling her ass enough, ”Mia drops (not her real name).
The 28-year-old has been a sex worker. Today she tries to distance herself.
With the closure of bars and massage parlors as well as the very nature of the profession, which forces women to rub shoulders with several people within two meters, clients are becoming rarer.
The re-containment has weighed down the incomes of sex workers, who find themselves in a very precarious situation.
“Already, they do not have access to government money, like the PKU, as work is a criminal act,” said Sandra Wesley, director of the organization Stella, which helps sex workers. So, at the monetary level, it is difficult. “
More violent men
Everywhere in the community we see that violence has increased since the start of the pandemic. But the girls have to keep working.
“Guys are more nervous with the curfew. When they arrive with the girl, she needs to give damn good service, ”laments agent Ghislain Vallières, of the Longueuil police.
“They want to lower prices to a minimum. The demands don’t make sense. It’s a zoo, ”adds Véronique Duchesneau, street worker for the Prostitution Intervention Component, in Lévis, on the South Shore of Quebec.
“Customers have offered false exit permission tickets [après le couvre-feu] in exchange for discounts ”, denounces in turn a member of the Collective to help women who are sexually exploited.
But without aid measures, “it is normal that they continue to work”, maintains Jennie-Laure Sully of the Concertation des combats contre les exploitation sexual.
Some have changed their schedules to respect the curfew. Others welcome customers to their homes or hotels where they have more control over hygiene measures. Regardless of their methods, most have had to turn to “freelance” or virtual work.
They show up on classifieds sites or the suggestive content online service OnlyFans, like Mia and a few of her friends.
“But with self-employment, they find themselves even more isolated and at risk of being subjected to violence,” points out Julie Lederman of the Quebec Prostitution Intervention Project.
– With Antoine Lacroix
Little help to get by
A record number of women working in the sex industry have reportedly undertaken a shift since the start of the pandemic, but the lack of support is holding back their process.
“We have never seen so many women ask us for support to stop sex work and move to another environment,” points out Julie Lederman, worker at the Quebec Intervention Prostitution Project.
This is the case of Mia, 28, who worked in a dance bar.
When the bar closed, the young woman got a job in the mechanical industry.
Then, three weeks ago, the PIPQ arrived “like an angel” to offer him a local job, a space in the Saint-Roch Church that welcomes vulnerable people.
“I love it, launches Mia, even if it is not paying”.
So she turned to the suggestive content online service OnlyFans.
“You can sell a picture of yourself hitting the balls for $ 25.” It pays off, but it’s time consuming. You have to answer everyone, ”she said.
At the end of March, the Longueuil police were setting up an emergency program to house and feed sex workers.
“We knew that the girls were not going to be able to survive,” says spokesperson Ghislain Vallières.
Since the launch of the program, demand has been continuous. However, “Longueuil is the only city in Quebec to offer it”, deplores Agent Vallières.
“The majority of women who have called us since the start of the pandemic tell us: OK, that’s it, I have to get out of it,” emphasizes Jennie-Laure Sully of the Concertation des Luttes contre l’Expoitation Sexual (CLES) . This would be the perfect time to set up very large exit programs that would offer them direct financial assistance. “