MOST sex workers in Zimbabwe meet clients in person in bars and on a dark street corner at night in town, but since the Covid-19 lockdown came into effect on Saturday, the street hookers have been forced to move their business online.
The government reviewed lockdown measures over the weekend, resulting in gatherings such as weddings and churches being banned for 30 days, with formal and non-formal businesses being suspended. Businesses now operate from 8AM to 3PM. The curfew is now in effect from 6PM to 6AM.
Since most sex workers come out to work at night, the dusk-to-dawn curfew means their ‘offices’ are out of reach.
And since the essential services provided are not viewed as essential by government, they have no choice, but to use social media to sell their flesh.
In separate interviews commercial sex workers who spoke to B-Metro said of all the challenges that come with the lockdown, lack of clients was the biggest test they have to contend with.
“As sex workers our incomes disappeared overnight when the Government reviewed its lockdown measures in the face of rising Covid-19 cases by imposing a stringent regime resulting in bars, bottle stores and lodges being closed.
We are really in a desperate situation as we are in need of money to pay rent and buy food,” said a commercial sex worker who identified herself as Rose, adding that some prostitutes will be left homeless and without any income.
She said as the reviewed lockdown measures threaten their livelihoods as sex workers, they were also now working from home using WhatsApp and Facebook to make appointments with their clients.
“The return of lockdown doesn’t just mean being out of work, it could also mean that we should be innovative. We are using technology to service our clients. I am now meeting with my regular clients via WhatsApp and Facebook.
“It’s easy for those who drive as they just come to my house and if they are not comfortable being serviced indoors, we just go to a bushy area close to my suburb to make love in the car,’’ said Rose.
A research by B-Metro has also shown that with an urgent need to replace lost income, many commercial sex workers have switched to online services, offering their clients video calls, erotic photographs, and videos instead.
Another commercial sex worker who refused to be identified said it was going to be tough for her as moving online was not a simple solution.
“This Covid-19 is a disaster for us who are involved in client-facing business. My kids are really struggling for food.
Now we have no business at all and we have also been forced to change timetables.
“Instead of meeting our clients at night, it now makes sense to invite them during the day but it’s difficult for those who are married as they don’t want to be seen sneaking into our houses. For appointments with clients, I use WhatsApp, but it’s not easy as some clients will just ignore me as they suspect that they are being trapped,” she said.
Another sex worker who identified herself as Connie said although the demand for sex services was high, it was difficult to service her clients as lodges and hotels were not accessible.
“I used to see up to six clients a day at lodges but it’s now difficult for me to service them since I stay with my two children which means I can’t invite them (clients) to my place. As you know as part of lockdown measures people are supposed to stay indoors so I can’t chase my kids to create space for my clients.
“It’s also difficult to invite my clients home since my landlord too doesn’t know about my occupation,” said Emma, while swiping her finger down the phone to reveal dozens of unanswered texts and WhatsApp messages from her potential clients.
An official with a sex worker-led organisation Sexual Rights Centre (SRC), who requested not to be named, said nationwide lockdown was particularly damaging for sex workers as many of them were struggling to survive.
“The nationwide lockdown implemented by government to contain the spread of Covid-19 has left many sex workers jobless. To make matters worse they are excluded from emergency assistance available to other workers. They are also not benefitting from pandemic response and recovery plans being extended to other workers in the informal sector,” said the official.