The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unlike any other. The virus, which has spread across the world in just a few months, has affected the lives of millions of people and has profoundly changed the ways we live and work. For sex workers, this is a bad situation that has been made worse with restricted access to emergency funds and essential healthcare and an increase in raids, surveillance, and stigma.
Asociacion de Mujeres Trabajadoras Sexuales LIQUIDAMBAR is an organisation that advocates for universal access to health services and speaks out about violence against sex workers. Based in El Salvador, they reported their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is affecting local sex workers in our COVID-19 Impact Survey.
In El Salvador, sex workers have been “100% affected”, with reduced access to condoms and lubricants, harm reduction services, HIV treatment, and STI testing and treatment. Sex workers have been ignored in government support packages and many face uncertain futures.
“We are invisible. We do not have access to healthcare unless it is COVID-19. Today is when they are doing more raids on us. They do not mention us nor do we have government support. Nobody has taken us into account."
LIQUIDAMBAR reported the precarious situation that many sex workers find themselves in as they are unable to work but without any kind of support.
“There is an obligation not to go out. They do not allow women to undertake sex work but neither do they help us with food and money to cover other expenses.”
With many sex workers finding themselves in this difficult position, there is much uncertainty over their ability to earn money to cover essentials such as food and housing. LIQUIDAMBAR reported that, rather than receiving assistance with emergency housing provisions, many sex workers are being removed from their homes.
“We do not have an emergency residence, on the contrary they are removing us from our rental housing… which most of the time we are renting precariously.”
El Salvador has been widely criticised for their response to the crisis. To curb the spread of the virus, President Bukele enforced mandatory lockdowns and issued statements that encouraged excessive use of force against anyone perceived to be breaking restrictions. In the first three days of the state of emergency, the government detained 607 people for violating lockdown, treating them as criminals and placing them in police cells.
LIQUIDAMBAR informed us that that these measures have resulted in violence and sexual assaults, as the police and the military abuse their positions of power.
COVID-19 is not a problem that will go away anytime soon, and the impact of this pandemic is likely to be felt for some time. LIQUIDAMBAR reflected on the long-term impact of the crisis and the need for sustained support for the sex worker community.
“They discriminate against us. [We need] housing support, economic support, and decent basic food. We prepare or die according to our reality. This virus came to stay and nothing will be like before.”
You can read more about the impact of COVID-19 on sex workers around the world in our reports from Bangladesh, North Macedonia, Senegal, and the United States, or keep up to date with news and resources on our dedicated COVID-19 page.