Our statement regarding COVID-19
People in the sex trades are no stranger to structural violence. In moments of public health and economic crisis, sex workers face additional vulnerabilities.
For many, sex work involves in-person, bodily contact. As longtime leaders in public health projects, sex workers recognize the urgent need to #flattenthecurve amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic. The exigencies of social/physical distancing, however, are having a profound socioeconomic impact on our communities. Full-service sex workers are facing the loss of business and an increasingly unpredictable market, erotic dancers and performers are out of work as their places of business are shuttered, and many workers are attempting to move into online work and platforms. Street-workers and homeless people engaged in commercial sex are especially vulnerable at a time in which shelter-in-place mandates will cast greater scrutiny on those that cannot afford to exit public space. Sex markets are undergoing their greatest transformation since the passage of FOSTA (2018).
Criminalization and surveillance, discrimination by financial institutions and public services, and social marginalization pose additional hurdles to sex worker’s ability to access healthcare and social welfare measures. As a highly feminized, racialized, and queer and trans workforce, we are already vulnerable to the violence of racial capitalism. The specific needs of sex workers must be incorporated into the agendas and policies addressing the economic and social impact of COVID-19.
An important means of mitigation include reducing the prison and jail populations. Minnesota state and the city of Minneapolis must take steps to curb the spread of COVID-19 behind prison and jail walls. Mitigation entails both the release of currently incarcerated persons and stopping the growth in incarcerated populations. As many public health experts have noted, incarcerated persons are a vulnerable population at a high-risk for transmission. Corrections staff could easily be carriers that bring COVID-19 into and out of facilities. Sanitation and self-isolation measures in prison populations will be extraordinarily difficult to carry out as recommended by public health experts.
Responsible leaders in city and state government are taking steps to reduce their incarcerated populations, release inmates serving sentences for crimes that do not pose a threat to public safety, and to deter future arrests. In Maryland, the State Attorney has ordered that pending criminal charges for prostitution, drug possession, and other minor offenses be dismissed. New Jersey has taken steps to release inmates jailed for low-level offenses or probation violations. The Philadelphia police department has chosen to “delay” arrests for nonviolent offenses. Even former directors of Immigration Customs Enforcement are calling for the release of thousands of migrant detainees.
We need state and city government to act swiftly to prevent further harm to sex working communities. We echo the ACLU-Minnesota and the Minnesota Public Defender’s office in calling for the release of the many incarcerated persons that are at risk, held on technical violations, or pose no threat to safety throughout the state. In addition, we call upon Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Chief of Police Arradondo to immediately direct MPD to cease arrests for prostitution-related offenses.
SWOP-Minneapolis collectively demands:
1. The decriminalization of all non-violent prostitution related offenses and a moratorium on arrests, raids, and prosecutions for prostitution-related offenses on the city, county, and state level. Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal and Attorney General Keith Ellison must dismiss pending criminal charges for prostitution-related offenses and direct law enforcement to cease arrests for prostitution (and other misdemeanor) offenses.
2. Inclusion of independent contractors and the self-employed within state unemployment benefits. Adult entertainment workers are often classified as independent contractors. Even with the passage of the emergency stimulus bill, adult entertainment workers may face problems with filing, including discrepancies between their reported income on previous tax returns and that reported by the companies with which they contract (e.g. club ownership) and stigma upon revelation of their occupation. Those filing for unemployment as independent contractors must have access to competent assistance and be assured coverage.
3. We join with @CTUL and other organizers in calling upon state-leaders to establish a fund to provide emergency, direct financial assistance to low-wage workers and those who have not been able to file a tax return for the previous two-years. People who survive through criminalized economies should not be excluded from financial support during this crisis. We call for our representatives in the U.S. House and Senate to continue to push for a federal stimulus package that offers comprehensive relief in the form of a universal basic income for all persons residing in the U.S., for the duration of the pandemic (as in the plan proposed by U.S. House Rep. Rashida Tlaib).
4. We support @BlackMN COVID-19’s and InquilinXs @UnidXs por Justica’s demands for a freeze on living costs (e.g. rents, mortgages, and utilities) and for paid sick and family leave for all workers. No debts should accrue at a time when most persons are experiencing a dramatic loss of income—losses that will further compound existing racial, economic, and gender inequities.
5. We concur with @NeverAgainAction demand that Governor Walz use his executive power to order the release of all immigrant detainees in order to prioritize community health and safety. Visa-status must be extended to all migrants engaged in sexual labor so that they may continue to access benefits and healthcare without fear of deportation.
In this time of crisis, we are heartened by the leadership of those organizing for housing, economic, labor, racial, gender and sexual justice. Across the world, sex worker advocates are calling for the inclusion of our concerns, including the decriminalization of sexual labor and communities profiled as engaged in sexual labor, in political remedies to this complex global crisis. People in the sex trades reside at the intersections of multiple marginalized communities, and we know that a return to things as they were before the pandemic should not be our end goal.
We in SWOP-Minneapolis stand in solidarity with our sex-working kin and all those developing a political response that centers the margins and builds from the bottom up.
In love and solidarity,