Neglected with No Social Protection: The Plight of Sex Workers during COVID-19 in South Africa

Victor H. Mlambo, Mfundo Mandla Masuku

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study aims to shed new light on the sex industry by questioning the lack of government assistance for female sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and looking at their rights from a feminist perspective. The study employed the conflict theory to understand the manifestation of sex work as a profession and its associated drivers. It used a phenomenological approach to understand the lived experiences of sex workers in their own words. A sample of 11 female commercial sex workers operating in the towns of the uMhlathuze Local Municipality, South Africa, was interviewed. The study found that assistance from government and non-government organisations was available. Still, sex workers had no access to it due to their occupation falling outside the legal beneficiary framework. During the pandemic, the criminalisation of commercial sex work exacerbated poverty, inequality, and socio-economic desperation among those in the profession. The study recommends that government strengthens resources to support sex workers and introduce safety net programs to restore livelihoods and dignity in criminalised settings. Various interventions are required to change the legal framework regarding sex work and view the profession from a legalised, regulated and as valid occupation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number69
JournalSocial Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • COVID-19
  • neglect
  • plight
  • poverty
  • sex workers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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