Social Issues

Turkey’s sex workers struggle to survive as Covid rules hit industry

Istanbul, Mar 3 (efe-epa).- The closure of brothels and nightly curfews to stem the spread of Covid-19 in Turkey has left the country’s sex workers in dire straits.

Prostitution is legal in Turkey but sex workers lack the same access to labor rights enjoyed by other professions.

“The coronavirus has left many sex workers in a difficult position. The majority don’t have access to labor rights, such as unemployment benefits, and they suffer economically because of the coronavirus, the closure of brothels and the decrease in clients,” Pembe Hayat, an NGO specializing in trans and trans sex worker rights, said.

Out of an estimated 150,000 sex workers in Turkey, only 2,600 are licensed and registered with authorities, according to a study by Ankara University.

Sex work NGOs say that even those with contracts have not received unemployment benefits from their employers or the state, which has prompted many to return to unregulated public spaces such as the street or clandestine bars.

Cansel Derya Karagöz, 45, a sex worker for two decades, says it is safer to contact clients through social media.

“You’re at home, you have the telephone number of the client who is going to arrive, you can identify them,” she tells Efe. “It’s better than being in the street.”

To find sex worker ads on social media, clients simply have to search the name of a city or a neighborhood on Twitter, Instagram or TikTok, although accounts are perpetually blocked due to privacy rules and content censorship.

“I use Instagram. I can’t put anything sexual on there, as soon as I do they cancel the account. If you open a new one, they block it again,” Karagöz says.

“We can’t work in the street because of the coronavirus, we can’t make a living via Twitter. So, how are we supposed to make living?” she complains.

Karagöz says that she and her colleagues have “reached rock bottom” and that the situation has never been so precarious.

“Before, we had a safety net. When one of us couldn’t pay (the rent), we would help out among ourselves, but now this no longer works. I can no longer afford my own rent, I have to look out for myself,” she adds.

The reduced income and the extra lengths sex workers have to go to earn a living exposes them to Covid-19.

Pembe Hayat has published a technical guide for sex workers on how to minimize the risk of Covid-19 infection, which includes using disinfectant before and after meeting with a client or offering alternative services such as massages or erotic shows online.

“We use disinfectant liquids, you apply to yourself and to the client, and we keep a distance between mouths (…) but your bodies touch. That’s how we protect ourselves. We have to work, but there is a risk.”

Karagöz says that many of her colleagues have contracted Covid-19 but have to carry on working.

“A very close friend of mine, she was called Gül. She was 64 and she was forced into sex work as a way to survive. She died of Covid-19, it’s really painful”. EFE-EPA


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