COVID-19 pandemic devastating to transgender sex workers in the Dominican Republic

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France 24, Amnesty International

The Dominican Republic recorded its first coronavirus case on the 1st March 2020, and the country has since reached almost 100,000 reported cases. France 24 has published an article on the impact of COVID-19 on transgender sex workers in the Dominican Republic, speaking with Luna Veras, Henely Flores, and organisation TRANSSA, who are all based in the capital of Santo Domingo.

Between fear of Covid-19 and a nightly curfew, her [Luna Veras] business has dropped by 80 percent.

"I live by sex work. In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, we trans sex workers are in crisis. The economy has stopped," said Veras, who lives in a poor neighborhood in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Caribbean country, where prostitution is legal so long as it is voluntary.

The nightly curfew imposed by Dominican authorities as they struggle to slow the spread of the disease has dramatically impacted the sex workers' lives.

The 47-year-old Veras is HIV-positive and is "panicked" at the idea of contracting the coronavirus, given the drastic effect it could have on her health.

The curfew has brought dramatic change. Not only has work dropped off sharply, she now makes appointments only by phone, not in person.

So Veras is now a long way from the 10,000 pesos (about $170) she earned each month before the pandemic. To get by, she now cleans houses.

Twenty-year-old Henely Flores agrees that the nightly curfew -- in effect from 7:00 pm to 5:00 am in Santo Domingo -- has had a major impact.

"One day I got changed and went out to work. But I realized that clients were not stopping because it was still daylight and they were ashamed," she said. Things were so bad she had to ask a friend to take her in because she had no place to live. 

With their income plummeting, many sex workers have become dependent on help from charities and international organizations.

"It's a difficult situation; some people are barely surviving," said Christian Kingsley, who heads TRANSSA, which provides assistance for transgender people. "We don't have the means, but we have tried to help them with food and protective equipment against Covid-19 -- one less thing they have to spend money on."

So far, he said, his group has helped 600 people to register for a government program called "Quedate en casa" (Stay home), which has provided monthly grants of 5,000 pesos to help people buy food since the beginning of the pandemic.

Amnesty International also reported on the nightly curfew and repressive government measures in the Dominican Republic in an article published in May, stating that law enforcement “made an estimated 27,000 detentions between 8 April to 7 May, allegedly for non-compliance with the evening curfew implemented.”