How lockdown affected the lives and finances of sex workers

A woman shows support for sex workers.
A woman shows support for sex workers.
Estelle Ruiz, NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Sex workers ply their trade outside the Roodepoort Magistrate's Court on a daily basis.
  • They say they apply sanitisers to their bodies before and after meeting clients, to prevent being infected by Covid-19.
  • Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) spokesperson Katlego Rasebitse said sex workers are also entitled to receive social relief from the government. 

As darkness falls, a group of women emerge from the shadows, ready to ply their trade near the Roodepoort Magistrate's Court. 

The group identify themselves as sex workers and charge between R50 and R350 for their services.

A woman, who told News24 her name was Lydia, said she and her colleagues comply with regulations.

Lydia, 44, said they are well-informed about the coronavirus and they all carry sanitisers to clean their hands and bodies.

"Before servicing a client, I undress and apply sanitisers on my thighs, and torso. We are dealing with different people every session and we need to protect ourselves from Covid-19," said Lydia.

However, she said clients didn't want to provide contact details for contact tracing - in case they test positive.

READ | Sex workers call on Ramaphosa to include them in plan to aid workers during lockdown

Lydia hails from Welkom in the Free State and has been working as a sex worker for the past 15 years.

"I came to Johannesburg many years ago. I found employment at a restaurant, which was later closed. I was unemployed for a few months and my landlord threatened to evict me, when I was rescued by a friend.

"My friend recruited me to this job, which is very risky and can end in death, depending on the type of client I am dealing with," she said.

On a profitable day, Lydia makes between R500 and R1 000 per night.

However, she added that since the implementation of the lockdown, sex workers have been unable to work all night. 

Hours are now cut down to between 17:00 until 22:00

Anna* said her income was curtailed under Level 5 and Level 4 of the lockdown.

"Remember the majority of our clients are married men and had to be home earlier than midnight. Again, police also warned us to be out of the streets from 20:00 or face arrest. We lost a lot of money and clients during Level 5 and 4.

"Since the inception of Level 3, more men are coming to us for service. We are working until 22:00 and we can make something to feed our families," Anna said.

Lesotho national

Rebecca, from Lesotho, said she became a sex worker last year, after losing her job as a domestic worker.

"Poverty drove me here. I was unemployed and have two children and a mother in Lesotho that I have to look after. This job is dangerous and we are only surviving by God's grace.

"I remember a client who paid me R350 before we left to his house. After sleeping with me, he chased me out, took my money, cellphone and clothes. I walked naked and was assisted by a man, who drove me to my house," she said.

Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) spokesperson Katlego Rasebitse said sex workers had been affected by the lockdown.

Rasebitse said sex workers were also entitled to receive social relief, including food parcels, from the government.

"The lockdown has affected them, too, because they were unable to pay rent and maintain their families. Some could not access government relief, especially migrant workers, who didn't have identity documents. One thing to remember is that sex workers are also contributing to the economy," said Rasebitse.

He added that a single sex worker has about three dependents at home.

*not her real name 

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