In-person sex work is one of the industries most directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to connect with clients, most independent sex workers use adult service websites (ASWs), whose services range from simple advertising websites to platforms with both direct and indirect governance of workers. Although ASWs do not employ sex workers, their response to the pandemic has a large impact on sex workers’ financial and physical wellbeing. This effect is even stronger among migrant workers, who are less likely to qualify for, or be aware they qualify for, government support. This study reviews the response to COVID-19 of 45 of the leading ASWs in Britain, and triangulates the data with seven sex worker-led organisations. It shows a large variation in the responses of ASWs: the majority had no public response to the pandemic at all, a minority took intentional steps to support workers or donated to hardship funds for sex workers, and at least one ASW reduced their safety features during the pandemic. These findings illustrate that while most ASWs do not acknowledge the influence they have over the working practices of their service users and the shift of economic risk to them, some recognised the potential that their platforms have to support sex workers during crises.
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