Sex workers pivot to walks, virtual encounters

Sex worker Estelle Lucas prepares for a virtual date (Image: supplied)

Sex worker Estelle Lucas* has been at the sharp end of Covid-19. The nature of her job means she’s had to drastically rethink how she operates.

As the 29-year-old, who is based in Melbourne, explains:

“Obviously if sex work is your only source of income, as it is mine, then you have to adapt.”

Estelle Lucas

While the entertainment and hospitality sectors have been vocal about the impact on people’s livelihoods of coronavirus restrictions, the sex work industry has also been badly affected.

In Melbourne, still struggling to emerge from its second wave, brothels have been shut since March. Sole operators had only a short window between waves in which to legally work.

Lucas, who has been in this line of work for 10 years, was able to apply for JobKeeper payments, but has still seen her income drop dramatically.

Initially, rather than sexual encounters, she offered socially distanced dates, usually involving a walk. These were popular, particularly with her regular clients, but became impossible once stage four restrictions were imposed in July.

New clients also appreciated being able to meet her and possibly forge a connection before booking her more traditional services down the track when that option becomes available again.

“It’s hard to maintain relationships [with regular clients] without bookings, so I just talk to the ether that is social media, just letting them know that I’m still around, I’m surviving,” she said.

Lucas has also been offering virtual dates over Zoom, but like many people she finds the platform quite challenging.

“I don’t offer anything sexual on screen, just because I’m not comfortable with it,” she said. “I might make a few exceptions for people that I know but I find it hard to work on that medium.”

With hers being a relationship-based industry, Lucas points out you can’t keep up a relationship if you’re not seeing people.

“The fire tends to dwindle.”

Messaging existing clients is not common practice, because of privacy issues. But that makes it difficult for her to maintain her regular client base for life after lockdown.

Red Umbrella March for sex workers’ solidarity in Canada, 2016 (Photo: Sally T Buck, Flickr)

Lucas is not the only one finding this year tough. Dylan O’Hara, from the support group Vixen Collective, told the ABC that some sex workers were struggling financially because they had been unable to access JobKeeper or JobSeeker payments.

“Sex workers predominantly work as independent contractors, but because of the need for privacy … [and] to protect ourselves from stigma and discrimination, that produces a disincentive to out yourself to the government,” said O’Hara.

“It can make it difficult or even impossible to actually provide evidence of your prior earnings and financial records in order to access the urgent government support.”

Instead, many sex workers are having to rely on donations made through the national support organisation Scarlet Alliance.

Lucas has also dived into adult content creation, advertising a VIP membership through her site which is similar to the OnlyFans site, with a one-off fee of $150 for the first 100 members.

The content includes images, videos and stories that could be considered erotic but are not pornographic.

It seemed a natural step for Lucas, being a similarly adult-themed field. However, she says a sex worker’s skills are probably more akin to those of a therapist than a content creator.

Lucas has also been focusing on her other business, a website builder for sex workers.

*Not her real name

Cutting Hair Isn’t Saving Lives But It’s Definitely Something

There has been a lot of confusion surrounding hairdressers as an essential service after a 30 minute time limit was imposed last month and then removed three days later.

However, salons and barbers must still abide by the one person per 4 square metres rule.

The confusion continued leaving some hairdressers feeling guilty for remaining open and their clients shamed for going.

Lauren Weller, 38, owner of Hair Oasis on the Central Coast runs her salon out of a studio at the back of her property.

She says there’s a lot of guilt about people keeping their hair appointments at the moment.

“I’ve had clients sitting in the chair say that they feel really bad that they haven’t seen their own family members, but they’ve come here to my home.”

“I feel bad too, in some ways because I’m still open,” she said.

Lauren Weller’s Instagram post thanking her clients during a difficult time.

Lauren says there are a lot of people in the hairdressing online community that are against salons being open at all.

The Australian Hairdressing Council started a petition in March to close all hairdressing salons as a part of the social restrictions to limit the coronavirus outbreak.

Many hairdressers have closed since, despite still being included in the essential services list.

Lauren works from home in a studio disconnected from her house, however, finds this can be more difficult sometimes.

It’s a bit of a blurred line as you’re not allowed visitors in your home, she explained.

“I’ve got visitors coming to my home but it’s my place of business as well,” she said.

Similar to other business owners, Lauren has increased her frequency and intensity of cleaning in order to remain open.

Things like door handles, furniture, hair clips and brushes are now disinfected twice a day instead of the pre-pandemic every few days.

However, multiple clients have had to cancel their appointments.

“They [clients] have cancelled their appointments and are hoping to return when everything goes back to normal,” Lauren said.

This is a for a few reasons, such as some of the over 60s clients worrying about leaving their house at all.

Some have had to cancel simply because their kids are at home distance learning.

They can’t bring them to the appointment because of physical distancing restrictions which only allow her and two clients in the salon at once she says.

Lauren says one regular with Emphysema has cancelled her appointment because she was worried what others in the salon would think of her coughing.

However, those that keep coming back are mainly trying to support Lauren’s business during these uncertain times.

“The majority of my clients have been coming to me for a long time so they know a lot about me, they know my struggles and they know how many hours I’ve put into running my business.”

“I think people’s minds are put at ease knowing the type of person I am.”

Lauren Weller

She says that she believes all clients to date have been honest with her and have cancelled if they’ve felt ill at all.

Working as a home hairdresser has given her more autonomy with her clients.

“I can control who comes in and they all respect that I have a family and that they’re coming into my family home or at least my salon that’s on my family block of land,” she said.

Joy Hulley, 53, a regular at Hair Oasis continues going to the salon because “it’s time for yourself.”

“You’re going directly from your car and into the salon, so there’s no shopping mall to walk through.”

Joy says she trusts her hairdresser as “she’s very diligent in her cleaning” and she’d “like to help her out with her business.”

Zeinab Arjah, 22, just got a new colour at her local salon and says how her hair looks effects her self-esteem.

“I love it, it makes me feel confident.”

Zeinab still likes going to a hairdresser because “you can talk to them about anything.”

She says she mostly enjoyed it because it was different to her normal repetitiveness while self-isolating.

“You’re mingling with people, you’re socialising, and it feels normal,” she said.

Main image by Cesar Saravia on Unsplash.

Top Tips to Remain Sane During the Pandemic

Originally published on Hatch.

Although the novel coronavirus is a respiratory based illness, social distancing measures taken to control the virus are wearing on our mental health too, write Brianna O’Rourke and Dinita Rishal.

Many people across the nation have taken to expressing the term as ‘physical distancing’ in an effort to highlight that though we may stand 1.5m apart we still stand together.

But social distancing has left many Australians without their usual coping strategies in times of stress.

A recent YouGov survey found one in two Aussies felt isolated, one in four said it put their relationship under strain and 57 per cent of the nation felt generally stressed due to the pandemic.

Impacts of Covid-19 (Art: Dinita Rishal)

Professor Patrick McGorry, psychiatrist and former Australian of the Year, says it’s not just the threat of the virus it’s actually the responses that are necessary to deal with it that are wreaking havoc.

“Everybody’s affected but there’s a sub-group of people that will be pushed over the edge over the next few weeks and months,” he said.

“We will see a big surge in need for care and the mental health system is not well prepared for it. We’ve got time to prepare, just like we had time to prepare for the physical risks of the virus.

“We now have, I would say, a few weeks to really get our act together to really strengthen our mental health system and deal with this.”

The YouGov survey also revealed one in five Australians are buying more alcohol than usual during the pandemic, that 70 per cent are drinking more than normal and a third are consuming alcohol everyday.

McGorry says anxiety is the driver in many forms of mental health and the simplest way people are dealing with their anxiety is booze.

This actually causes harm in itself and “so we have to offer better options to reduce general anxiety”.

Sarah Hosking, a clinical psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia says there could be multiple mental health impacts of the coronavirus.

She says anxieties associated with catching the illness and the stress of vulnerable relatives being at risk are both likely.

In addition, financial and economic stress will become more common alongside fears of job loss.

Hosking also mentioned the different Medicare numbers that anyone having a hard time mentally may contact.

“The local mental health network is also encouraging tele-health sessions via Skype,” she said.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has released reports to aid people with pandemic anxiety.

APS’s tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety revolve around positive mentality and keeping things in perspective.

They advise you to change your mindset and ask yourself the below questions rather than imagining the worst-case scenario:

  • Am I getting ahead of myself, assuming something bad will happen when I really don’t know the outcome? (Remind yourself that the actual number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia is extremely low)
  • Am I overestimating how bad the consequences will be? (Remember, illness due to coronavirus infection is usually mild and most people recover without needing specialised treatment)
  • Am I underestimating my ability to cope? (Sometimes thinking about how you would cope, even if the worst were to happen, can help you put things into perspective)

During these abnormal times of self isolation there are othervmeasures you can take to cope with the difficulty of a lockdown the APS says.

They suggest you try to stay connected as positive social interactions are essential for our mental health.

“This can be as simple as phoning a friend to share your experience, using videoconferencing technology to check in with a family member, or spending quality time with the people you live with.”

Australian Psychological Society

The APS advises you to structure and plan out your day while in iso, “to restore a sense of purpose and normality to your daily life”.

You should change out of your PJs every morning, have a dedicated workspace, and limit distractions.

When WFH it’s easy to lose motivation so setting a strict schedule and clearly defining work hours allows you to switch off when needed.

Self isolating with other individuals 24/7 can give rise to arguments and tension.

APS suggests sharing positive emotions between housemates and communicating your worries and concerns among each other.

Written with Dinita Rishal.

Main image by Tumisu/Pixabay.

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