With the news of Coronavirus—Covid-19—and government requests of social distancing flooding social media and news networks this week, questions are coming in. Are our ladies working? Are the clubs closed? How are the girls doing? What do they need? Right now, the answers we know are disheartening; many answers remain unknown.
Yes, the clubs are open. One local club is closed; however, it is not a club that allows visits and they are closed because they serve food. The clubs we visit do not, so they have not been forced to close. And yes, many of our ladies are working. They are staying in their “work” mode. They have their faces on, beautifully painted with layers of eyeshadow, cheeks highlighted, and lips perfectly lined and painted to hide any fear they may have. Fear is not an option. Disassociate. Survive. Be self-reliant.
If you attended our recent banquet and had the opportunity to read through the story of Laney, we highlighted that choices are not always as simple as you and I would see them. In many cases, the women we work with make choices daily that are choices between two equally bad choices: choices for basic needs to be met, choices because of addiction, or choices being made for them. Coronavirus does not change those circumstances for them. It makes their situation worse.
As others ran to stores to stock up on supplies including medications, toilet paper, diapers, and sanitizer, our friends counted the one-dollar bills in their purple Crown Royal bag and realized they did not have enough to buy an extra pack of diapers, especially if they would need to pay an Uber driver to get to the store. They were sleeping during the day when most of us were out stocking up because they work at night and missed the news reports that toilet paper was in short supply. When they got to work, their first 5 customers gave them conflicting messages about what was going on because every customer presents himself as an expert on all things, so they were left even more confused. When they asked their “boyfriend” if they still needed to go to work the next day because of it, he told them to quit being ridiculous, they would be fine. They have learned a long time ago it is better to take their chances with a virus than it is to cross him.
So, they are still going to “work.” But the customers are fewer. This is tax season, the time they count on to make extra money that will hopefully hold them over for a few months of the year. The one time of the year that the men visiting them drop larger bills on the ledge for their tip during a lap dance. Those twenties and fifties are what they use to catch up on rent and utility payments and to buy school supplies for the next year. But the tax refund customers are not coming in right now. They have all spent their returns at Walmart and Costco on toilet paper and cold medicine, on hand sanitizer and canned food. The “regulars” are not coming because their wives are not letting them use the excuse that they are visiting their buddies to watch the game, because they are all cancelled. The “regulars” are not coming because they don’t know when their next paycheck will come because the doors to their place of employment was closed on Wednesday. The customers are not showing up because of social distancing, so they will stay home and watch porn from the safety of their living room. Self-soothing and feeding their own addiction during their time of fear over the unknown.
In an industry that observes no social distancing and creates an environment where most workers are reliant on day to day pay, many of our friends will be making decisions to engage in more risk taking. Some are already involved in active prostitution and will rely more heavily on those transactions to make income, seeking out situations that will put them at a higher risk of not only encountering Coronavirus, but domestic violence and assault. And many that have never engaged in “extras” with customers may resort to prostitution related activities as a means of survival. Sadly, those already under control of a pimp will not be offered extra protection in the form of sanitizer or limited contact. It will be business as usual, potentially exposing themselves, their families, their friends and the families of their customers.
What about federal and state benefits to help? Unemployment benefits may be a short-term solution for many of the readers of this article that could be affected by lay-offs, but again, the population that Peace Promise serves is disqualified for these benefits. Ladies who work in clubs are considered independent contractors and not employees, so they will not qualify for any unemployment, nor do any working in prostitution. While some do receive medical assistance, not all are currently enrolled so many will not seek testing or medical treatment for themselves or their children even if warranted. And those receiving food stamps may run out early because their children are now home from school and they have extra family members in the house that sofa surf from home to home. And honestly, some may just sell off their food stamps so they have cash to pay their phone bill, cable bill or get their bag of dope to avoid getting dope sick. That may be hard for some of us to understand, but that is their reality.
So, what is our response? Right now, I have had to make the decision to cancel outreaches. It is a decision that truly grieves my heart because I want to be with our friends, but I also know that this is a time that we need to use wisdom. I choose to live a life that walks in faith, believing in the Truth of the Word of God, but I also know that means having wisdom. Wisdom in this situation says that we need to be proactive in protecting our volunteers from potential exposure to Coronavirus. We cannot do that in a setting that practices no social distancing and one that even on a good day presents questionable cleanliness standards, not because of the women we love, but because of the number of customers and their habits. I know that in the weeks and months to come the women we love will face needs and situations as a result of this time that they will need our help to walk through. To do that we must remain healthy. If that means we sacrifice a few visits to be able to be present and show them the love of God, to respond to them as only the people of God can and will at the end of this, I am willing to forgo those visits. I have also made the decision to have most meetings in virtual settings, either via Facetime, Zoom meeting rooms, or by phone, unless there is an emergency. We will continue to respond to any emergency that our ladies face and support them through those times; that is our role and that will not change. We will also schedule pick-up and delivery of supplies as needed to support our ladies. Those requests have been limited at this point, but we are only a few days into all of this.
What are the needs right now? Prayer. Cover our women in prayer, daily. Multiple times a day. They are taking risks that none of us are. They may not have the same understanding of the information being presented that we have. They are in survival mode. And then, pray for them again. Beyond that, we do not know what all their needs are yet, but we can anticipate that we will have an increase in the need for financial assistance for basic needs including groceries, rent, utilities. We can also anticipate the increased need for care if they experience illness. And we can anticipate the need for kinship loving care because they are at higher risk for domestic violence due to stressful home situations, limited income, detoxing from drugs because of lack of access to cash, and assault from johns and pimps. We can anticipate that they will need to see us being a living representation of Jesus, walking in peace and not fear, multiplying fish, sharing words of encouragement and wisdom while showering them with love and acceptance.
Be prepared to be HOPE. That is what we are called to be, a light in the darkness, the hands and feet of Jesus. Be the church, be the light, bring the HOPE.
Executive Director – Peace Promise