Sex workers forced onto streets imperiled

By Ruwan Laknath Jayakody


A local civil society organisation will make legal interventions to address pressing issues faced by commercial sex workers who have been driven on to the streets due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a particular focus on issues they face at the hands of law enforcement authorities.

Speaking to The Morning, Stand Up Movement Lanka Executive Director Ashila Niroshini Dandeniya said that owing to the pandemic, commercial sex workers who operate on the streets and those who worked in massage parlours are finding it difficult to ensure daily survival.

“Now, they are faced with the dangerous situation of having to provide their services on the streets as opposed to doing so in rooms. The closure of certain massage parlours, owing to Covid-19 quarantine-related restrictions, has also contributed to this situation,” she noted.

She further claimed that the law enforcement authorities intimidate commercial sex workers by threatening arrests on bogus drug possession-related charges, and then proceed to obtain “sexual and monetary bribes”.

Moreover, at the point of arrest, incidents of verbal abuse, assault, and arresting females without the presence of a female police officer have also been reported, she further noted. 

The laws employed by the Police in this regard are the Penal Code, the Brothels Ordinance, the Vagrants Ordinance, and the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance.

Also, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, some commercial sex workers have been kicked out of the hostels where they were lodging and have subsequently faced difficulty in finding accommodation facilities, Dandeniya pointed out.

Being excluded from various relief and welfare programmes initiated by the Government and other social services organisations and difficulty in accessing them, are other issues impacting commercial sex workers, she added.

“In addition to making legal interventions through the provision of legal assistance including aid, we along with other civil society organisations and governmental authorities are commencing an advocacy and sensitisation programme targeting government officers, the Police, and grama niladharis, amongst others.”

Police Media Spokesman Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Ajith Rohana was not available for comment.