Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare and exacerbates the existing insecurities of sex workers. This paper asks: What are sex workers’ everyday experiences of (in)security? And: How has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced these?
Methods: We engage with these questions through collaborative research based on semi-structured interviews carried out in 2019 and 2020 with sex workers in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Results: Revealing a stark mismatch between the insecurities that sex workers’ experience and the concerns enshrined in regulation, our analysis shows that sex workers’ everyday insecurities involve diverse concerns regarding their occupational safety and health, highlighting that work insecurity is more multi-faceted than sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Widespread employment and income insecurities for sex workers are exacerbated for transwomen and male sex workers. Their legal liminality is enabled not only by the opaque legal status of sex work in the Netherlands, but also by the gendering of official regulation. The COVID-19 pandemic made visible how the sexual and gender norms that informally govern sex workers’ working conditions intersect with hierarchies of citizenship, complicating access to COVID-19 support, particularly for migrant sex workers.
Conclusions: Sex work regulation in the Netherlands leaves workers in a limbo—not without obligations and surveillance, yet, without the full guarantee of their labour rights.
Policy Implications: To effectively address sex workers’ insecurities, a shift in regulation from its current biopolitical focus to a labour approach is necessary. Besides, public policy and civil society actors alike need to address the sex industry’s harmful social regulation through hierarchies of gender, sexuality and race.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), by the grant ‘Fund MA-RP Publications’ (WBS 18202010.036).
Publisher Copyright: © 2022, The Author(s).