Sex workers left struggling financially after coronavirus closures

The red light district at the height of the pandemic. Photo: Alex Nicholls-Lee
The red light district at the height of the pandemic. Photo: Alex Nicholls-Lee

The coronavirus measures left many sex workers with financial problems, while others continued to work illegally despite the risks that entails, according to a new report by researchers at the Erasmus University medical centre and Soa Aids Nederland.

In total 300 sex workers took part in the survey during the two years of the pandemic.

Most – 65% – said they had financial problems following the closure of sex clubs and brothels. Many are neither employed or official freelancers and were not eligible for government help. In 2020, half the sex workers in the survey said they carried on working, a figure which rose to 90% in 2021.

‘Some ended up working in more risky locations because they were afraid of police checks,’ researcher Mariëlle Kloek said. ‘They also accepted clients that they would have normally refused.’

In total, 41% of the sex workers in the survey said they had been confronted with physical or sexual violence, particularly those who are young or were born abroad.

Just one fifth of them reported the incident to the police and only 4% actually filed a complaint.

The researchers say that the coronavirus crisis exposed the risks facing people in prostitution and called on the government to treat sex work like all other ‘contact’ professions if there is another lockdown.

New laws

The government is currently working on new legislation which will introduce both registration and licencing for sex workers. However, many are opposed to the measures out of privacy or safety concerns.

When the law comes into force ‘part of the coronavirus situation will be back.’ Kloek said. ‘So we need to think now about how we are going to prevent this.’


The survey was published on the same day as a new website for sex workers was launched to help them identify potentially problematic clients. is based on a British website and was set up by Soa Aids Nederland and sex workers’ organisation Proud with funding from the justice ministry.

‘Sex work is not treated like every other profession in the Netherlands,’ Simone Temming from Soa Aids Nederland, told broadcaster NOS. ‘Complicated and repressive laws make sex workers more vulnerable, and they still have to face violence and stigma.’

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