Pune: Sex workers seek to resume work with caution, SOPs

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With the lockdown being eased, some sex workers in Pune’s red light area want to get back to business by taking all precautions and following the standard operating procedures to stay protected against COVID-19.

The livelihood of nearly 3,000 sex workers in the Budhwar Peth area here in Maharashtra has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown, following which several of them moved back to their hometowns, according to an NGO working for their welfare.

Now, with the lockdown being relaxed, some of them are gearing up to resume work and are even ready to explore options of services like “phone sex”, Tejasvi Sevekari, executive director of city-based NGO Saheli Sangh, told PTI.

She said the NGO, which is a collective of sex workers, has chalked out some standard operating procedures (SOPs) for them and is training them on how to take extra precautions while soliciting customers.

All these SOPs and guidelines are for sex workers across the country who are connected through the National Network of Sex Workers, she said.

“As no COVID-19 case was reported from the red light area here, the containment zone tag and barricading have been removed. While majority of the sex workers are still not ready to start their work, a handful of them have resumed business as they are facing financial crunch due to the long lockdown,” said Sevekari.

The NGO has started imparting training through audio and video clips to the sex workers on what precautions they need to take during customer visits.

“Since there will be physical contact with customers, we have chalked out SOPs and guidelines. While condoms are mandatory, now masks and gloves are also a must during sexual activity. They have been asked to use hand sanitisers and disinfectants,” Sevekari said.

Some of the sex workers have bought thermal scanners and foot-operated sanitiser dispensers and placed them outside their premises, she said.

“It has been advised to ask the customer to take a shower before the activity and not to entertain any customer having cough or fever,” she added.

The NGO is also encouraging them to explore the ‘phone sex’ option and asking those who are already into virtual sex business to teach others, Sevekari said.

“Phone sex is quite normal in high-end call girls, but it is a new thing for sex workers here. There are some sex workers who are already using the medium and they are sharing their experiences with others,” she said.

The objective is to allow them to earn their livelihood without being exposed to any physical contact with customers, thus keeping the risk of COVID-19 at bay, she said.

Inspector Jagannath Kalaskar from Faraskhana police station, which has jurisdiction over the Budhwar Peth red light area, said they had a meeting with NGOs working in the area and asked them to ensure all precautions are taken.

“Sex workers have been told not to stand or sit outside their rooms, and those are ill or infected with HIV have been asked to stay away,” Kalaskar said.

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