Sex workers, who are among the most marginalised individuals in Singapore, have been hit hard by restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a surge in the number of distress calls and appeals for help from the sex workers community since late January this year, according to Project X, a non-profit organisation that advocates for sex workers in Singapore.
Established in 2008 to eradicate violence and exploitation within the sex industry in Singapore, Project X reaches out to more than 4,100 sex workers in person and 1,000 online-based sex workers every year. There are an estimated 10,000 sex workers across the country.
The organisation found that sex workers are often the breadwinners in their families. Some of the sex workers are in debt and others are the primary caregivers for their aged parents, or are single parents who want to provide better opportunities for their children.
With the current COVID-19 crisis, sex workers have been struggling to make ends meet, especially with the stigma from the general public that surrounds them, said Project X.
In an effort to support sex workers in Singapore, Project X took the initiative to launch a fundraising campaign titled, “Support Sex Workers in Singapore During This COVID-19 Period” which aims to raise about S$20,000.
The campaign has raised a total of S$12,648 from 85 givers at the time of writing.
Project X covers three groups of sex workers. These are sex workers who are Singaporean citizens and PR workers, performing artists who are work permit holders, and licensed brothel sex workers.
“Many have seen a decline in business since January 2020. Yet living expenses, rent, and school fees remain constant. Those who had full-time jobs outside of sex work have lost their jobs or have had their incomes cut. Some have lost their homes,” the campaign page reads.
According to Project X, most of the performing artists come from the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Since the pandemic hit Singapore, they have become jobless and some have not even been paid their salaries. There are also sex workers who are stuck in their accommodation in Singapore amid the pandemic.
“Many express the desire to return to their home countries, but due to lock-downs, are unable to do so. Others worry about whether they can pay their rent, and the frightening prospect of being homeless,” Project X asserted.
Project X claimed that it has received calls from sex workers who are running out of medication for their chronic illnesses and who are unsure of whether they have to consult a doctor for their recent conditions. Nevertheless, Project X clarified that none of the calls are related to the COVID-19 disease.
Among the assistance that the organisation is providing to sex workers are purchasing groceries and daily necessities, NTUC vouchers, cooked food, help in accessing tele-medical services, health advisories and COVID-19-related information, as well as the information on Government’s assistance schemes.
“Your contribution will enable us to keep our operations going, to maintain important programmes for this vulnerable community, and to respond to the growing appeals for assistance,” Project X stated, adding that the donations will not be tax-deductable as it is a registered organisation in Singapore and not an Institution of a Public Character (IPC).