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Editor's note: The following story may contain content that is disturbing or graphic to some readers.
From glory holes to making moves virtually, public health advice for sexual contact during COVID has varied across Canada. During the pandemic, people engaging in sex work are facing unique challenges not only because of the novelty of the virus, but also due to the unregulated nature of their work and the social stigma that goes along with it.
In Simcoe County, police are noting an increase in congregation complaints related to sex work, but a steep drop off in human-trafficking tips. Jessi not her real name has made the move from stripper to sex worker due to major changes that have hit the industry throughout COVID She was working as a stripper in Barrie up until the pandemic hit in March.
While the club opened again in June for a short time, Jessi says everyone was required to wear masks and stay six feet apart, which made it impossible for her to make money on private dances. Sarah Tilley has worked at the harm reduction co-ordinator at the Gilbert Centre since January Prior to that, she worked for the centre as the sex worker outreach and support co-ordinator. While the organization has evolved over the years to help members of the LGBTQ community due to need, other affected communities, such as those engaging in sex work or struggling with addictions, are also included as part of their mandate.
There are so many different forms of sex work. As COVID is spread primarily through through respiratory droplets and aerosols, there are ways for people engaged in sex work to do so safely. Public perception of people engaged in sex work can be a barrier to making sure proper protections are in place. Jessi provides any services a customer might request, but she says she does observe COVID safety as best she can.
This includes only meeting clients at a specific hotel, always insisting all participants, including herself, are wearing masks, and sanitizing the hotel room between clients. She says, in her experience, the of clients requesting services has gone up throughout the pandemic. The BCCDC also provided guidance for sex workers through a harm reduction lens to help reduce the risks associated with in-person contact and to keep workers as well as clients safe from COVID illness. That advice includes regularly washing hands, disinfecting surfaces, wearing a mask, switching from in-person to web-based, phone-based, or text-based services when possible and using positions that minimize face-to-face contact.
Although she is making a lot of money right now performing sex work, once the pandemic is over, Jessi says she would still want to go back to working at the strip club. In regards to her own safety, Jessi says she has a male friend who accompanies her to client meetings and waits in the car so she can call if she needs help.
She said that during the pandemic, she has had men reach out to her, offering to act as a pimp for her. When it comes to the laws in Canada regarding prostitution, Jansen references the Nordic Model, which is in place across Canada. So, some hotels when they notice the traffic going in and out they may ask the sex worker to stop due to COVID.
Although, Jansen says there are some challenges to enforcing current recommendations. Throughout COVID, Jansen says she has noticed a decrease in the of community members coming forward with tips or seeking advice when it comes to human trafficking. Jansen said that as a method of addressing skepticism of police, Barrie police has separated its services for victims from their enforcement so people engaging in sex work who may want or need help can do so without having to file charges or proceed with a criminal investigation.
Tilley says COVID has shone a light on a variety of unregulated industries, including the sex trade, and the exploitation and danger that can occur when those industries remain unregulated. A step forward for the industry could be the decriminalization of sex work, a stance the Gilbert Centre has stated publicly.
One of the major findings was the decrease in harm The reason they were able to exploit sex workers is because of the social stigma. Five years after its introduction, the Prostitution Law Review Committee found that the sex industry had not increased in size, and many of the concerns predicted by those who opposed the decriminalization had not been experienced.
Overall, research showed the vast majority of people involved in the sex industry were better off than they had been ly. One method used to keep people engaging in sex work safe is the Bad Date Book, a reporting tool facilitated by the Gilbert Centre where clients who engage in bad behaviour such as rudeness, theft, price bartering, threats, or acts of violence are reported anonymously and shared across the community.
When talking about sex work, Tilley says the value of the service is typically glossed over, as intimacy and connection with people is something we, as a society, need. It can be difficult to wrap our he around that Share on Facebook. Jessi not her real name has transitioned from working as a stripper pre-pandemic to performing sex work. Contributed image. Legality of sex work Det. Michelle Jansen works in the human-trafficking unit with the Barrie Police Service. She says she keeps in contact with her former co-workers and many of them are struggling.
Trending in Beyond Local. About the Author: Jessica Owen Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering County of Simcoe matters, education and features. Allow browser notifications on your device.
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