KOCHI: Beena (name changed), a 32-year-old sex worker in Kollam, had never considered taking her work online. But the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown pushed her out of work and into a crisis. For the last one month, she has been in online mode, offering sexually-explicit live broadcasts to customers through video calls by accepting money via digital payment.
Many sex workers have been able to connect with their customers who had shared their numbers with them on earlier occasions.
"Customers have no qualms in spending small amounts ranging between Rs 100 and Rs 200 for a live video chat/show. There isn't much money, but these small amounts help. The money is collected via digital payment apps," said a sex worker.
Kerala State AIDS Control Society (KSACS) project director Dr Ramesh R said they have been organising awareness programmes among sex workers on the necessity to maintain social distancing for avoiding coronavirus infections.
"As the risk of coronavirus spread is high through physical interaction, many sex workers have been left with no other option but to go in for phone/virtual sex. To make money, they are using digital platforms to entice customers through video and audio calls," he said.
A study conducted by KSCAS in coordination with NGOs had earlier found how prostitution had become more digitally driven in the last few years with sex workers using smartphones and apps to solicit business.
A 2018 study said there were 15,802 women and 11,707 male prostitutes in Kerala.
"Not many use smartphones and platforms like WhatsApp. A majority of the sex workers are from the marginalised sections of the society and don't own a smartphone. But a minority have switched to such gadgets as they need money to keep going. They get in touch with their customers over phone for chats. It's a fact that the coronavirus scare and lockdown have hit the sex workers badly. Left with no income, they are reeling," said Sreemayi, a trans activist.