15 March 2020
The escorts industry is regarded as one of the most recession proof(15) and thriving industries in the world. However, with Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic devastating people, health care systems and economies around the world, what is the impact on the London escorts industry?
First identified in Wuhan Hubei China in December 2019(1), the COVID-19 better known as coronavirus- a severe and acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2)(2). On March 11th 2020, it was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization WHO.
With over 160,000 cases reported around the world in 140 different countries, it has claimed over 6000 lives-at the time of writing. The virus is spread via respiratory droplets from sneezing or coughing(3); it is asymptomatic in many individuals and the typical time between infection and showing symptoms is 5-14 days. The symptoms associated with the COVID-19 include but not limited to a fever, coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, pneumonia, kidney failure, lung damage and fatigue. Although there is no vaccine currently for the COVID-19, it is under the research development phase. In the meantime, symptoms are managed by self isolation or quarantine, influenza type medication or for severe cases, Intensive Care Unit ICU.
As of March 13th 2020, the WHO identified Europe and UK to be the new centers of the COVID-19 pandemic(4)
The response of affected countries such as China, Spain, Germany, Italy, Korea, and Japan, include flight bans, travel restrictions within the country, lockdown of various businesses and schools, bans on public congregations, mandatory quarantines, self isolation, border closures, and rigorous screening methods at points of entry.
In addition to the health risks posed by the COVID-19, other detrimental effects are xenophobia, emergence of conspiracy theories, social isolation and economic recession(5)
What about the impact of the COVID-19 within London, United Kingdom, and the responses of the UK government?
In a FT article published on 15th March 2020(6), the UK government has been criticised for not enforcing social distancing as other countries have done. In an open letter signed by 240 scientists, it was argued that social distancing could significantly slow down the growth of the virus and spare thousands of lives. At the same time, it was conceded that the UK NHS will not be able to cope with the "flow of patients needing intensive care." To date, the UK public health strategy has been herd immunity, a phrase ridiculed by news commentators and the netizens on social media.(7) Statistically, the most vulnerable demographic are the elderly with underlying health conditions. Thus, the herd immunity concept implies a killing off of the most vulnerable citizens within the UK.
Since the Coronavirus outbreak, many escorts based in London have spoken out on social media and escorting forums(11)(12) about the impact of COVID-19 on their business.
Alisa 24, an escort working at an Haute London escorts agency, has expressed her concerns about the COVID-19:
"I noticed clients taking greater precautions during bookings, such as handwashing, asking not to kiss and etcetera. I provide a GFE service which includes intimate kissing, but I will limit my services such as kissing and OWO during the outbreak. I have even made myself more available to attract more business because I have seen a decrease in the number of bookings. I am not worried about catching the virus myself since I am still young and healthy. I am worried about my elderly clients and those with compromised immunity. Due to the travel restrictions, my plans to tour outside of the UK has been postponed this year."
In a DazedDigital article(8), London based escort Alice claimed to have “lost a significant travel booking in Europe as a result of the virus." Her client base in London has dried up, and she is banking on her clients to reschedule bookings after the peak of the outbreak.
For many escorts working in London, decline in bookings and client cancellations is becoming the norm during the pandemic. Losing a few bookings due to the virus can be detrimental to those self employed as escorts. Escorts in London are independent contractors, which means they get no sick pay. Those with higher expenses, such as rent for an incall apartment are delving into rainy day savings to break even(12).
A large percentage of clients booking London escorts are business men traveling into the city. However, with travel restrictions in place and many financial hubs in lockdown, escorts have no choice but to cut their losses. From the client's point of view, the economic recession as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic have reduced their expendable income to spend on luxuries such as escort services. Clients in vulnerable groups are also risking their health by using escort services, a fact that concerns Gia, at Haute Girls London escorts agency. "I now refuse to see clients over the age of 60, or with underlying health conditions," she said. "I am not being ageist but realistic about the risk I am exposing them to. Statistics show that men over the age of 60 with underlying health conditions have the highest death rates from Coronavirus."
Jane, an escort interviewed by DazedDigital also blames her financial woes on the recent Brexit move by the UK. With regards to her loss of business from elderly clients, she accepted, "it is right for clients to be diligent about their health, especially if they are older or have underlying health conditions. But I believe a lot of these cancellations are down to people being advised to avoid touching others."
Letizia Miro(10), an independent London escort listed on AdultWork, London Escort Guide, PunterNet and PunterLink UK, claimed that losing one or two big international bookings would decrease predicted income dramatically. "There is an obvious slowdown [of new enquiries] due to the cancellations of conferences and business meetings," she said, "less movement...means less prospective clients coming to London for business. According to Letizia, the best thing she could do to mitigate financial losses is to reconnect with regular clients.
Some of the proposals put forward by the UK government to mitigate the economic loss for UK individuals include deferrals of mortgages, rent and full sick pay from day 1.
As self employed contractors, escorts in self isolation are not entitled to sick pay. To address this concern, SWARM- a collective led by escorts- have set up a hardship fund for COVID-19. SWARM opined that escorts working in the UK are "living in very precarious financial situations, living week-to-week without savings, family support, or access to adequate welfare benefits to support ourselves in times of crisis.” The SWARM Twitter account(13) explained that all donations will be given to the COVID-19 hardship fund as an effort to aid and show solidarity.
Escorts like Gia have seen the lockdown in cities and remarked that, "once the choice is taken away from us to work, the only option is to supplement our income in other ways. I may create an OnlyFans account or migrate to camming. Once the situation calms down, the demand for escorts will be greater than ever. Men can never find the same satisfaction online as they do in person."
The response of clients to the COVID-19 outbreak have been varied. At Haute London escorts agency, an increasing number of clients have decided to self isolate. The minority of clients who are not complying with social distancing are continuing to book London escorts. Escorts see certain clients at their discretion, although there is a palpable atmosphere of concern.
FL, a client using Haute Girls London escort services during the COVID-19 contagion explained his reasons for doing so. "I live alone and am distancing myself from people at highest risk groups. My social life in London is non existent because of the virus. I have no girlfriend and feel too stressed out right now to date. Seeing escorts is a relief for me during this time. I know about the risks but I have strong immunity. "
On the American social news site Reddit, clients have mixed opinions about booking escort services(14). Since a large percentage of London escort clients are American traveling on business, their responses are relevant to London.
John-anon, a Redditor working in the live entertainment business, said that he would not be "booking dates with ladies." His "firm has already laid people off," and he claimed to have lost 15% in pay due to drops in contracts.
Financial uncertainty is the reason cited by other Redditors for not using escort services. Member Johnsheepcomehome claimed that he was "down tens of thousands of dollars because [of] the stock market crashing." Redditor Neat_Description added that, "most middle/upper middle low-mid six figure earner with a mortgage/encombrances has just lost a nice chunk of money and is worried about the overall economy and what their career is going to look like in the near future."
With regards to the risks of physical contact, some clients mentioned that they didn't see escorts as being more risky than other members of the public. Some placed higher probabilities of getting the Coronavirus by going shopping on the high street than one to one interaction with an escort. Other clients have been more pragmatic; accepting that escorts will continue to see clients to make ends meet. Escorting is essential work, according to an anonymous Redditor, "note, all health official advisories talk about essential travel, work... Well, if you can't pay your bills, it just became essential, so I definitely understand the (escorts) keeping their schedules for the minimum required for paying bills... No one should starve to help in the national effort of containment."
(1)WHO Director-General's media briefing on COVID-19; opening remarks. 11 March 2020
(2) "Coronavirus Update (Live) – Worldometer". www.worldometers.info. "Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE". gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com. Johns Hopkins University 9 March 2020.
(3)COVID-19 - Frequently asked questions - Alerts". www.health.nsw.gov.au.15 March 2020.
(4) "Europe is now the coronavirus epicentre of the world, says WHO". Evening Standard. 13 March 2020
(5) Perper, Rosie 5 March 2020. "As the coronavirus spreads, one study predicts that even the best-case scenario is 15 million dead and a $2.4 trillion hit to global GDP". Business Insider
Clamp, Rachel 5 March 2020. "Coronavirus and the Black Death: spread of misinformation and xenophobia shows we haven't learned from our past". The Conversation. 14 March 2020
(6)Clive Cookson and Donato Paolo Mancini "Scientists warn UK’s coronavirus response is inadequate" Financial Times 15 March 2020
(7)Sarah Boseley, Herd immunity: will the UK's coronavirus strategy work? The Guardian 13 March 2020
(8)Marianne Eloise, How coronavirus is impacting our sex lives. DazedDigital 13 March 2020
(9)I’m A Sex Worker & Coronavirus Is Destroying My Business, Refinery29 6 March 2020
(10)Letizia Miro, unconventional libertine, https://www.letiziamiro.com
(11)The Wuhan Flu / Coronavirus, UKPunting. Chinese massage and Coronavirus, UKPunting
(12) https://saafe.info/main/blather-and-babble/coronavirus-affecting-bookings/ SaafeForum
(15)SUDHIR VENKATESH, But What Does It Mean for the Prostitutes? slate.com/business/2008/09/what-the-financial-crisis-means-for-high-end-prostitutes.html 26 Sept 2008