Sex workers in Melbourne are finally allowed to go back to work after the COVID-19 outbreak shutdown operations for nine months.

On November 22 Dan Andrews announced brothels can have up to 50 patrons and strip clubs can have up to 150 patrons.

Sex worker, Gia* said she was excited to start working at her parlour again.

“I really, really enjoy sex work, like it has probably been the best job I’ve ever had, even with all the stigma. I am just excited that it is safe to go back.”

Gia, 22 has been doing sex work for over a year but has also been doing sugar baby gigs intermittently since she was 18.

Since she stopped sex work in February, Gia has returned to sugar babying to help make up for the money she lost during stage four lockdown.

“I am also studying as well, so paying for that, rent, food and medical bills because I have a few chronic illnesses… my spare cash ran out by July. I was getting JobKeeper because I am a sole trader but when that got cut to $750 [per fortnight] I was really struggling to pay my expenses.”

Gia said she did consider online work during lockdown but did not want to risk outing herself as a sex worker.

“I didn’t want friends and family finding out about my sex work and the stigma is very much real and hate crimes do occur.”

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 According to the Scarlett Alliance COVID-19 report, many sex workers struggled to access support and find work during lockdown.

Scarlett Alliance National Programs Manager Gala Vanting said the pandemic’s impact on sex workers demonstrated the urgent need for the decriminalisation of sex work.

“Far too many sex workers were unable to access government income support. Sex work stigma impacted so many of our interactions with governments and health departments, where we were often shut out of decision making or communication.”

Scarlet Alliance did start their own fund to support sex workers during the pandemic which raised over $212,000 and supported over 700 sex workers.

The fund has currently been paused now that sex workers are able to go back to work.

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 Although Victoria has gone over a month with no new coronavirus cases and deaths, Gia said her parlour is still taking necessary precautions to ensure the safety of their workers and clients.

“Before COVID-19 the girls and I used to sit in the backroom, and everyone could hang out and chat and be friendly, so there was a lot of bonding between the girls. But we can’t have that anymore because they don’t want the girls interacting so we all get assigned a room at the beginning and we have to stay in the room the whole shift, so it is a bit more lonely.”

Gia said her parlour requires clients to sign in with their full name and phone number which has “scared a few of them off” because they do not want to be identified.

But most of her regulars have returned and willing to wear a mask during their interactions.

“I was surprised how many regulars were looking at the rule book. I thought no one would even know that parlours were open, but nope they knew and they came.

“I think all of Melbourne has gone through a dry spell, so most people are keen to get back.”

*Name changed for anonymity.

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