GET IN TOUCH:
If you are a woman with lived experience of selling or exchanging sex or images – or a service with experience of providing support to women – and would like to be featured on the podcast, please get in touch. You can take part in any way that suits you – from recorded interviews, to soundbites, to anonymised quotes and stories. Drop us a message here. We can’t wait to hear from you!
To find out more about how CLiCK can support your financial wellbeing, check out www.click.scot
If you are a woman with lived experience of selling or exchanging sex or images, you can make your voice heard on your experiences with money during the coronavirus pandemic by completing our money survey.
KEY ARTICLES & BLOGS:
WOMEN AND THE FINANCIAL IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS
Women have been disproportionately affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Emma Ritch, the director of Engender, highlights that women – especially Black and Minority Ethnic Women - are more likely to work in sectors like cleaning, caring, and retail in precarious conditions for low pay and are at greater risk of exposure to coronavirus. Information gathered by Engender about women’s experiences also suggests that women have been principally responsible for supervising home-schooling, balancing childcare with paid work, and managing household tasks that have significantly increased during lockdown.
Nina Ballantyne, the Social Justice Policy Manager for Citizens Advice Scotland, also notes that there have been gender differences in the types of advice being sought. Between February and May this year, there has been a 184% rise in women searching for information on Scottish Welfare Fund Crisis Grants, compared to a 117% rise in men. There has also been a 25% rise in women searching for information on Universal Credit, compared to a 22% rise in men. Nina notes that the most concerning gender difference in advice being sought has been on food banks. Although searches for information on food banks have increased for men and women, there has been a 16% rise in searches for this information by women since February compared to a 2% rise by men in the same period.
Whilst the financial impact of coronavirus may be a push factor into the sex industry – due to job losses in sectors like retail and hospitality as well as a lack of flexible part-time work to accommodate childcare - it is important to note that women who currently sell or exchange sex or images in Scotland are already falling through the gaps as many women are not protected by the financial support put in place by the UK and Scottish Governments.
HOW HAVE WOMEN WHO SELL/EXCHANGE SEX OR IMAGES BEEN FINANCIALLY IMPACTED BY CORONAVIRUS?
Through Your Voice at CLiCK, we have heard that money is the most urgent need for many women who sell or exchange sex or images. Prior to coronavirus, many women met with clients face-to-face. Due to social distancing and lockdown protocols, seeing clients face-to-face has become much harder. As a result, for many women, their income vanished overnight. Some women have been able to move online to webcamming (e.g. Chaturbate) and private gallery (e.g. OnlyFans) platforms. However, these platforms have become saturated during the pandemic which makes it difficult to earn any meaningful income if you do not already have an established following. Not all women are able to move online for many reasons (e.g. lack of access to technology), which means that some women have no choice but to continue seeing clients face-to-face - putting their health and wellbeing at risk.
At the start of the pandemic, we heard from a woman via Your Voice at CLiCK who said: “I think the most vulnerable will be hit hard first”. This is echoed by Zara, a women’s worker for Edinburgh-based service Another Way, who states that some women she supports are reporting that clients are bargaining around price during lockdown – with some women having no choice but to accept less money than they usually would:
“…A few of [the women I have been supporting] have had instances where by they have arranged to meet with a client, and the client has either not paid them properly – the full amount arranged – or has not paid them at all […] a few of their clients have also been trying to bargain with them to get deals which I can imagine for a lot of the women is quite frustrating, because they have no income at all right now and these men still want to meet with them but then are not paying up or not paying the full amount…”
Zara also notes that, for some of the women she supports who have been able to move online, there are concerns around safety as women are finding that their safety plans they would use with clients face-to-face are not easily transferring over to online platforms. Zara also adds that, due to financial pressure, women do not have the time to set up their online accounts properly and are instead having to produce content rapidly and take every opportunity to sell content due to a drop in demand. As a result, money is not just a financial issue; it is a safety issue as well.
WHAT HAS BEEN WOMEN'S EXPERIENCE OF HAVING THIS NEED ADDRESSED?
Although the UK and Scottish Governments have introduced several schemes to support the financial wellbeing of the population during the pandemic, none of these schemes appropriately meet the needs of all women involved in selling or exchanging sex or images.
Through our RISE Money Survey, we have heard that women have had to use savings, increase credit card limits, and borrow from friends/family and loan companies in order to stay afloat in the absence of appropriate support from the Government.
Outwith these government schemes, there have been numerous positive attempts to support the financial wellbeing of women who sell or exchange sex or images in Scotland. One example of this is Emergency Funds which have been set up by sex worker-led networks like Umbrella Lane and SWARM. In addition, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Encompass Network actively lobbied the Scottish Government for ring-fenced funding to financially support women who sell or exchange sex or images in Scotland. Unfortunately, these calls for ring-fenced funding were rejected. As a result, the Encompass Network applied to a small pot of Scottish Government funding and were allocated £60,000 to be divided between the nine Encompass Network organisations to financially support women and help tap women into counselling, with a small amount also used for additional staffing costs. The Encompass Network have also worked with Victim Support Scotland to open their Victim’s Fund to women with lived experience of selling or exchanging sex or images. At CLiCK, we are already helping women to access both the Encompass Fund and the Victim Fund – with women recently receiving support via supermarket vouchers and new household appliances. CLiCK Women’s Workers are available via live chat, one-to-one support, and helpline support at www.click.scot to help out with any questions you may have. You can also check out our blog for more information on the financial support we can help you access. These funds are here for you and we really encourage you to get in touch if you would like to find out more.
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE TO BETTER SUPPORT THE FINANCIAL WELLBEING OF WOMEN WHO SELL/EXCHANGE SEX OR IMAGES?
The Encompass Fund and the Victim Fund are only available for a period of 13 weeks and there is currently no clear indication from Scottish Government on what financial support may look like for women after this period. The Encompass Network are actively lobbying for ongoing emergency support and crisis funds which can support women for a longer term as savings begin to run out, mortgage holidays end, and furlough stops.
Staff within mainstream services (e.g. money advice centres) must also be made aware of funds available for women who are involved in selling or exchanging sex or images in order to ensure that women who are not tapped into specialist services are still able to access this support. However, many women do not feel comfortable disclosing their involvement in selling or exchanging sex or images to mainstream services due to fears of legal repercussions. Therefore, there must be changes at the legislative level which mean that women are not criminalised for selling sex in any form which may hopefully break down barriers women face in disclosing and help women to access the support they are entitled to.
There must also be a commitment from services and the Government to support women’s financial wellbeing for the long-term. Through Your Voice, and through discussions with other services, we have heard that some women would like support to develop new skills and diversify their incomes. Other women have expressed an interest for more supported exit from the industry:
“I think a lot of sex workers will not only find their business has dried up, but that they have nowhere else to turn to and even the best exit plans will fail right now.”
For some women, the coronavirus pandemic has felt like a “forced exit” from the industry which has been extremely distressing as the process of exiting often requires a lot of time and planning. For women who do wish to move on from the industry, the Encompass Network are currently exploring partnerships with the public and private sectors in order to develop internships for women and are also working with higher education institutions in order to support women back into education, if they wish to do so.
Ultimately, there must be a full and consistent commitment from Scottish Government to support the financial wellbeing of women who sell or exchange sex or images via ring-fenced funding which is available for a longer-term. Partnerships must also be developed between specialist and mainstream services to ensure that information about financial support is available to all women, regardless of whether they are tapped into specialist services. There must also be active attempts to support women to develop their skills and diversify their income in a way that suits them, as well as greater supported exit for women who choose to move on from the industry.