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COVID-19 Impact and Response for Sex Workers


Sex workers throughout Australia have been devastatingly hit by the impact of coronavirus. As a workforce, sex workers are predominantly a mixture of precarious workers and the self-employed, being independent contractors who work in or for sex industry businesses, or sole traders who work independently for themselves. As such sex workers are particularly marginalised in terms of the impact of the coronavirus and many will still be excluded from the stimulus packages announced by the government.

All eligible sex workers in Australia, including sex workers who work in brothels, strip clubs or massage parlours are advised to apply for the income support available from the Commonwealth Government.

While we welcome the announcement that from 27 April 2020 sole traders are included in the government’s Economic Response to the coronavirus, many sex workers will still be left without financial support. Sex workers’ needs for privacy and to protect themselves and their loved ones from stigma and discrimination can make it difficult, and in some cases impossible, for them to account for prior earnings if they now need urgent Government support to survive.

The impact of travel restrictions, business closures, self isolation and quarantine requirements have resulted in an unprecedented loss of work and income for sex workers. Sex workers, like most Australian workers have been facing a range of challenges, however for many of us, without access to current relief or support packages.

Immediate impacts to our community and our dependents include:

  • Homelessness and housing instability
  • Inability to buy food and basic items
  • Inability to pay bills including essential utilities
  • Inability to access medical services/prescription medicines
  • Impact of loss of income, stress, social distancing and quarantine

As the rate of coronavirus continues to grow with no indication of timeframes, sex workers are placed in the impossible position of having to balance the need to protect ourselves and the community against the prospect of no income and no access to financial relief. It should be noted that sex workers are leaders in managing health and safety at work and this has been continually demonstrated in our leadership in responding to STIs, HIV and other BBVs. We are already working together through our own peer-based organisations to coordinate a community response.

Scarlet Alliance and our member organisations have called upon Government to provide targeted support to our community. The measures we have called for include:

  • Crisis funding to Scarlet Alliance as the national peak organisation to work with our member organisations in the states and territories to distribute emergency relief funding to precarious workers, including but not limited to sex workers without a fixed address, sex workers without ID or otherwise ineligible for Centrelink
  • Crisis funding to Scarlet Alliance state and territory member sex worker organisations, including those that are currently unfunded
  • Further relaxation of barriers to income support for sole traders and independent contractors including requirement to provide evidence of earnings or work
  • Access to healthcare for all sex workers, including migrant sex workers and other sex workers who are Medicare ineligible
  • Prohibition of evictions on all forms of housing and workplaces during this crisis period
  • No disconnections to any essential services including electricity, gas, water, telecommunications and internet

We are urging the Government to ensure that all measures relating to sex work must be developed in consultation with Scarlet Alliance and our member organisations to ensure they are effective and do not have negative unintended consequences to either public health or the health and safety of sex workers in Australia.

Australia’s successful public health response to BBV’s and STI’s, especially to the HIV and AIDS pandemic, was predicated on a meaningful and full inclusion of the most marginalised communities in all responses. We would urge the Australian government to again include sex workers and sex worker organisations in the response to this pandemic.

Sex workers are committed to working together with the Australian Government to ensure this unprecedented crisis comes to an end.


Thank you to everyone who donated to the Scarlet Alliance Emergency Support Fund for Sex Workers in Australia.

Scarlet Alliance and our state and territory member organisations have joined together to create an ongoing fund to make donations directly available to sex workers who need emergency financial relief in order to support them to stay safe, housed and fed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This fund is being overseen by sex worker organisations and run by sex worker organisation staff and volunteers across Australia. All money donated goes directly to sex workers in need.

Sex workers don’t get sick pay and holiday pay, and many have no superannuation or savings. The stigma and discrimination that they face mean some have no proof of earnings to access government support. This fundraiser will provide emergency relief for sex workers in Australia who do not meet eligibility criteria for government or other financial support or are unable to meet government requirements. All proceeds go directly to sex workers in need. However, this will not be enough to meet the demand but will assist in bridging the gap until essential government support is provided.

CLICK HERE for link to emergency fundraiser in SIMPLIFIED CHINESE
CLICK HERE for link to emergency fundraiser in TRADITIONAL CHINESE
CLICK HERE for link to emergency fundraiser in KOREAN
CLICK HERE for link to emergency fundraiser in THAI
CLICK HERE for link to emergency fundraiser in VIETNAMESE

If you are a sex worker who needs financial support and cannot access the Federal income support available through Centrelink, you can apply to receive a payment here.



In addition to raising funds for our sex worker community, we are developing resources for sex workers addressing the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on sex work and what individual sex workers can do to adapt to working and/or surviving during this time. This will include up-to-date legal and health information and advice for accessing financial support. Please watch this space for regular updates.


This report documents the impacts of COVID-19 on sex workers in Australia and the extensive mobilisation of sex workers and sex worker peer organisations to provide support to a community in crisis. It details the shortfalls of state, territory and federal responses to the pandemic and identifies how sex work criminalisation, stigma and discrimination have both informed and been intensified in those processes. These shortfalls conclude the need for a drastic change of approach to the treatment of sex work and sex workers in the context of COVID-19. The report makes recommendations for change to strengthen responses and remove barriers to access to health, rights, financial support and other basic needs during COVID-19 and other public health crisis impacting sex workers. You can access this report HERE.

Our promotional poster for the 'COVID-19 and Sex Work in Australia' report is in both PDF and PNG format for easy downloading, sharing or printing.

Scarlet Alliance and our member organisations also produced a webinar entitled 'Ahead of the Curve: Sex Work and COVID-19' on International Human Rights Day. This webinar officially launched the report and is available online here:

Our 'Ahead of the Curve' poster, including stats from the pandemic experiences of sex workers, can be found HERE


This resource is for sex workers about COVID-19 and harm reduction in the context of sex work. We recommend that if you are able to take a break from working, you do so. COVID-19 is a serious and highly contagious disease that has already had a huge death toll across the globe. All people, including sex workers are at risk of contracting and suffering complications of COVID-19, and because it is a new disease, there are still a lot of unknowns about transmission and impact that can make it difficult to manage risk. We encourage all sex workers to stay informed about COVID-19 in Australia by checking in regularly with reliable sources. We recommend the following resources, including translations for regular updates:

Australian Federal Health Department updates
Australian Federal Health Department resources translated resources from Federal Health Department
SBS COVID-19 Factsheet
SBS Translated COVID-19 Resources
Coronacast (ABC Podcast about coronavirus)
ABC Health Report

We recognise that given the current state of government support, it is not a realistic option to stop work completely for some sex workers. This harm reduction resource aims to provide information to sex workers on transmission of COVID-19 and information on adapting your work practices, what services you provide, your screening practices and employing enhanced hygiene and cleaning measures as part of reducing risk of COVID-19. You can access this resource here.

This sex work, harm reduction and COVID-19 resource is available translated in:

ไทย (THAI)

Information is changing rapidly and new data is emerging constantly. For this reason, we have placed this resource online as a living resource and will be adding information on a regular basis.


This resource covers the summary of the current requirements in your state and territory and links to any guidelines and/or COVID-19 Safe work plans or checklists. Most state and territory governments alongside the National Cabinet, have started a process to ease the restrictions that were put in place to help slow the spread of coronavirus. Some states and territories have not yet announced return to work dates for sex service premises. Others have already returned to work or have dates in place. Most states and territories have COVID-19 Safe Work Plans, Checklists and Frameworks in place that operators must comply with in order to reopen. The conditions of these COVID-19 return to work plans and who is required to prepare and/or submit them varies across each state and territory. Restrictions are being updated frequently. This document is correct at 24 September, 2020.

You can access this resource HERE.

Scarlet Alliance and our member peer sex worker organisations are remaining open or providing support via phone, and will continue to update workers with new information when available. Scarlet Alliance member organisations in each state and territory have been assisting sex workers in understanding the requirements to return to work and in preparing the required checklists and work plans. Please check in with your state and territory sex worker organisation for any updates.

Translations of the July restrictions are available below and the updated September document will be added soon.

CLICK HERE to access this resource in KOREAN 한글
CLICK HERE to access this resource in SIMPLIFIED CHINESE 简体中文
CLICK HERE to access this resource in TRADITIONAL CHINESE 繁體中文
CLICK HERE to access this resource in THAI ไทย


Working online or by phone can take lots of different forms. Much like in-person sex work, you can either work privately or with a third party (like a commercial webcam platform or phone sex line). The amount of infrastructure and self-promotion you’ll need to do depends on how you choose to work. This resource will explore some of the options for non-contact work and give you some things to think about and try out as you diversify into the digital sex work space. You can access this resource at


This resource provides information for sex workers on eligibility, process and how to apply for the JobSeeker payment through Centrelink. The Government has temporarily opened up the JobSeeker eligibility criteria to allow sole traders and self-employed workers to apply for JobSeeker payments and receive up to $1,100 a fortnight. Full time, part time, casual or self-employed workers who have lost their jobs, had their hours reduced or do not have sufficient employment or income to meet their financial needs as a result of COVID-19 may be eligible to apply for the JobSeeker allowance and receive the increased payments. If you are sick or injured and are unable to do your usual work or study, including as a result of being in isolation or hospital, and meet Centrelink eligibility requirements, you can apply for the JobSeeker allowance. You can access this resource HERE


This resource provides information for sex workers on eligibility, process and how to apply for JobKeeper. JobKeeper is a new payment for businesses affected by the coronavirus, including employers, sole traders, contractors, sub-contractors and self-employed workers. It is run by the ATO and different to JobSeeker, which is run by Centrelink. Employers can receive $1,500 a fortnight per eligible employee from the ATO. The employer is then responsible for paying the full $1,500 to their employers. Employers may continue to pay normal wages to their employees on top of this payment. Sole traders, contractors, sub-contractors and self-employed workers can receive the payment for themselves directly into their bank accounts from the ATO. The JobKeeper deadline has been extended to 31 May, 2020. If you apply by 31 May, 2020 you will still be able to claim for payments from 30 March, 2020. You can access this resource HERE


This resource covers the supports available for sex workers who are ineligible for JobSeeker and JobKeeper. The resource covers a list of supports federally and each state and territory for financial relief, food, accommodation and services. You can access this resource HERE.