Businesses across Greece have been slowly reopening, scrambling to make up for lost work after a shutdown of more than two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The relaunch isn't easy, especially for those in marginalized professions, such as sex workers, who say they are among the hardest hit.
In the small city of Larisa, north of the Greek capital, Soula Alevridou operates one of the region's top brothels.
For years, she said, business was booming. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Now, times are tough.
“There is very little work,” Alevridou said. “Almost nothing. This industry has been hurt badly, and it feels as if its workers are coming out of a war, all of them injured. Those who manage to recover will survive, but it is tough.”
Under a new set of government health and safety regulations, brothels must now implement new protective measures to prevent coronavirus infections.
They require sex workers to wear masks, keep their heads a distance from customers and take on appointments of no more than 15 minutes, all measures the industry has agreed to.
Names and contact numbers
However, orders to register clients’ names and contact numbers, as well as to keep them in orderly lines outside brothels, have prostitutes balking, saying the measures strike at the very foundation of their service: anonymity.
“Keeping records of clients, their names and contacts may be right,” Alevridou said. “It assists health authorities in tracking and tracing potential cases.” Sex workers, though, she said, cannot play the role of police officers. The sex trade is a different business altogether, she said.
Cashless payments, now required, are also proving a problem.
A married man, Alevridou said, cannot go to a brothel and pay with his cash or credit card. His family probably shares the same card and he's bound to have problems once his wife or son or daughter get a whiff of the bordello charges, she said.
Critics say the measures will be impossible to impose.
“It's highly unlikely that these measures will be observed,” said Thanos Askitis, a leading sex therapist in Greece. Ultimately, he said, they will add no further protection to the industry. It will all boil down to luck or lack of it in containing the crisis on this front, he said.
So far, no cases have been recorded nationwide involving Greek sex workers.
However, the financial beating the industry has suffered in recent months, plus the new measures imposed, have many sex workers returning to the streets, branching out online or just going underground to eke out a living.
The crisis is much more prevalent in big cities, such as Athens, where most sex workers are already operating illegally. Authorities said they count about 800 brothels, but only a third of them are legally listed.
While the Greek government has offered financial assistance to those who have lost their income because of the COVID-19 crisis, no adequate provisions have been made for the sex industry.
To qualify for the aid payments, workers must show they are operating legally and have been paying taxes. That is impossible, though, for the uncounted numbers of unregistered sex workers here, mainly migrants, who cannot do so because they lack legal status.
Unlike other countries across Europe and beyond, sex workers here have received little, if any, support from local charity groups.