When the nightclub in which she touted for business in southern Chile was shut down by the authorities as to the coronavirus spread, sex worker Camila Hormazabal was left without access to her sole source of income.
Reuters reported that the heavily-tattooed 24-year-old had been picking up clients in the downtown bar in Concepcion for four years, making around $715 a month. Overnight, her income disappeared.
With no way to pay her bills, Camila switched to video calls conducted from her high-rise apartment bedroom and asked her regulars to meet her online.
“The calls bring in something, obviously it’s not the same and the money is not even what it would have been on a bad day before but it’s something,” she told Reuters by phone.
Camila is one of the thousands of sex workers worldwide left in a precarious position after the very intimacy that defines their work was thwarted by social distancing measures.
From Singapore to Germany to Mexico, sex workers have been left without an income, and often without a home.
In Chile, more than three-quarters of the country’s estimated 60,000 sex workers are sole earners and have at least one dependent, said the Margin Foundation, which provides the workers with social, legal and emotional support.
With an urgent need to replace lost income, many have switched to online services, offering their clients video calls, erotic photographs, and videos instead.
Older prostitutes who were not technologically literate have been trained up by a younger generation of largely middle-class women who pay university tuition fees by selling online sex, according to the Margin Foundation.
“We call them ‘the virtuals’, and some can make a lot of money,” said Herminda Gonzalez Inostroza, 59, who is a former nightclub dancer now working as the foundation’s spokeswoman.
“They’re teaching others over WhatsApp how to get into it, how to find clients, how to set up an account to charge credit cards, how to sort a webcam, she said.
“For the women over 45, it’s not easy but you can always learn.”
Relax Chile, a website offering both adult content and a meeting place for prostitutes and clients, said almost all of its accounts had replaced offers of physical contact with online entertainment. While that meant the loss of some clients, it opened doors to others from abroad, a spokesman said.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, a nighttime curfew intended to quell violence associated with months of intense protests over social inequality had already made life difficult for traditional streetwalkers in Chile, the spokesman added.