Excluded from State Relief, and Subject to State Violence, Sex Workers Rely on Mutual Aid
In New York City, at the U.S. epicenter of the current global pandemic, sex workers are struggling to maintain access to income and sexual health devices while being explicitly excluded from federal and state relief and reform bills. Federal and state guidelines specify that, to be eligible for small business relief, applicants much verify that they do “not present live performances of a prurient sexual nature or indirectly more than de minimis gross revenue through the sale of products or services, or the presentation of any depictions or displays, of a prurient sexual nature.” Such a broad restriction has the potential to exclude people who work in all areas of the sex industry. The federal government has also allocated $850 million dollars to state and local law enforcement, with no explicit provision prioritizing the decarceration of prisons and jails and reducing arrests. In the supposed progressive beacon, New York State, the proposed new bail statute will restrict pretrial release from “repeat offenders.” This will include people charged with misdemeanors, and it will ultimately mean that those who live in over-policed neighborhoods and engage in survival strategies will have their freedom revoked before their day in court, unless they can afford to pay for it. Despite recent federal and state relief, sex workers are also limited in access to social service resources such as life insurance, dental/vision benefits, health benefits, paid sick leave, hazard pay, workers’ insurance, or unemployment insurance (since a W2 or I099 is needed to access UI). Undocumented sex workers (without ITIN) will have absolutely no access to any federal or state relief.
At Decrim NY, we know well who will be most severely impacted by state relief exclusions, and increased investment in policing of public spaces in the name of enforcing mandatory quarantines and social distancing: people who are Black, people who are undocumented, street based workers, transgender people, people experiencing homelessness, and especially those who are all of the above. We recognize that we not only cannot rely on state relief, but that the state is continuing to harass, criminalize, and incarcerate communities that are already most vulnerable. Increased policing and incarceration is contributing to the spread of this global health crisis: The rate of COVID-19 infections at Rikers are seven times higher than the rest of New York City, and 87 times higher than the rest of the United States. There is no possibility of social distancing inside a jail cell.
We are calling on Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to stop policing, decarcerate New York City jails, cancel rent, make no bail rollbacks or amendments to the bail statute that is significantly more regressive than even before recent bail reform, basic income or economic relief need to include sex workers and undocumented people, and provide immediate and free housing to people experiencing homelessness. New York has the resources needed to increase safety without policing in our communities; it just lacks the political will and care for the wellbeing of Black and brown communities. We demand that legislators vote no on a budget that fails to meet the needs of our communities.
In order to support our communities during this pandemic, we have directed our energy toward mutual aid relief for Black folks across New York City, with a focus on Black sex workers, Black migrant workers, and Black trans communities. We have partnered with BAJI and BYP100, and in just the first few weeks, our collective has received more than $92,000 in requests for mutual aid. Support our efforts here.