Sex workers should claim wage subsidy, not cross Covid-19 borders – Lisa Lewis


Sex workers don’t have to cross the Covid-19 border – they should claim the wage subsidy instead, well-known Waikato adult entertainer Lisa Lewis says.

This comes after a woman, understood to be a sex worker, gained entry to Northland using false documents and tested positive for Covid-19 after returning to Auckland.

She had been uncooperative and was not telling authorities where she had been, prompting the region’s shift into level 3 on Saturday.

And, in Wellington, a 24-year-old sex worker has been charged with breaching the Auckland boundary during level 4 to travel to the capital.

* Covid-19: Auckland sex worker unable to pay rent after wage subsidy declined
* Covid-19: Govt failed to release names of two businesses linked to Northland case
* Covid-19: 15 close contacts of Northland community case test negative, one pending

Georgia-May Gilbertson/Stuff

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Ruatoria on Saturday as part of a regional tour to promote the Government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Lewis said sex workers had been selfishly breaking Covid-19 borders both this year and last, but didn’t have to.

“People get desperate and I understand that. If you are struggling and this is the only way to make money, I get it.”

But there was no excuse to cross the boundary, she said. The wage subsidy was an option for self-employed people and she urged sex workers to claim it.

“No one should be breaking borders, and sex workers are entitled to the wage subsidy, and if they need it they should apply,” Lewis said.

The subsidy is available to New Zealanders who operate a business or are self-employed, and the criteria include proving a decline or likely decline in revenue of at least 40 per cent.

Lewis said sex workers were likely scared of backlash and public criticism if applying, but said it is a legal, tax-paying profession and nothing to be ashamed of.

Deliberately breaching restrictions was unacceptable because they were put in place to protect the vulnerable and the country from Covid-19, she said.

“It makes me angry.”

Many people were unable to get exemptions for legitimate reasons such as tangihanga and to say goodbye to their sick loved ones, she said.

So people in the sex industry showing non-compliance, disregard, disrespect, and putting others at risk reflected poorly on the industry.

But she said bad apples were not reflective of the whole industry, as most were compliant with Covid-19 restrictions.

Workers also have the option to make money online and over the phone, she said.

Hearing of people deliberately breaching restrictions makes Lisa Lewis angry, she said.

Tom Lee/Stuff

Hearing of people deliberately breaching restrictions makes Lisa Lewis angry, she said.

Lewis did not meet customers during levels 3 and 4, and has been living in Taranaki during this outbreak.

Masks were mandatory for customers at level 2 and customers scanned a QR code before entering her premises, she said.

She was fully vaccinated and was looking into asking for proof of vaccination from clients.

Lewis has been in the industry since she was 17, and became well-known for streaking across the Waikato Stadium in a bikini while the All Blacks played Ireland in 2006.

New Zealand Sex Workers’ Collective community liaison Cherida Fraser said there were two options for sex workers during lockdown; claiming the wage subsidy, or not working and claiming Work and Income support.

Lots of sex workers had been claiming the wage subsidy, and the collective was providing information and support to those who were interested.

She said the sector was being challenged, but workers were adapting. Many were working online.

“They are resilient, but it’s still difficult for people who don’t have access to the same amount of income as before.”

She said it did a survey with sex workers working in Level 2, and they were not concerned about an increased risk of catching the virus, but about a lack of a record of their movements.

Fraser said clients often did not record the visits of sex workers, which created fear that contact tracing might not reach sex workers.

But, the industry had a high level of vaccination uptake, which was promising.

She said it only had information about the sex worker who visited Wellington, and said the Northland cases were speculation.

Naming the Wellington woman’s profession and speculation about the women in Northland was harmful to the sex industry, Fraser said.

“It does amplify the stigma and discrimination and that is a harmful contributor to violence against sex workers and impacts a sex workers ability to get other jobs and affects their ability to be housed.”

The police were still searching for a woman who travelled around Northland with another woman who later tested positive for Covid-19.

Authorities did not believe she was moving about the region, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Monday’s press conference.

Both are understood to be sex workers, and it is likely the second woman has the virus too.

A third woman, who travelled from Auckland to Wellington, was charged with travelling from a level 4 area and with failing to assist in a search.

The woman was widely known as a sex worker, the NZ Prostitutes Collective said.

She was given bail and ordered to live at a residential address in New Plymouth.


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