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Green Is The New Black

Is Climate Change Forcing People Into Sex Work?

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sex work green is the new black

As the world goes back to how it was pre-pandemic, naturally, we see a rise in tourism. Everywhere, countries have been preparing for the influx of tourists, and those who relied on tourism for their income are finally able to recoup their losses. One group in particular, who were one of the most vulnerable during the height of the pandemic, is still as vulnerable as ever. 

Sex workers have often been marginalised by society almost since it was possible to be a sex worker. Even the Bible itself is littered with stories of how prostitution was regarded during those times. More often than not, sex workers usually have no choice to enter the profession, and the harsh reality is that the world lacks opportunities for those who have insufficient education or resources, which is usually why and how people turn to sex work. 

Unsurprisingly, sex workers are also constantly taken advantage of, be it by their clients, society in general, or even by the government. So, with all of this piled on top of them, why are people still seeking jobs like prostitution, and how exactly does climate change push those into sex work?


Climate change isn’t just rising sea-levels

As a result of climate change, there is an increased danger of natural catastrophes, as well as a rise in poverty and instability. Natural disasters force individuals to flee from their homes in search of safety, a better life, and a way to earn a living. This leaves them exposed to human trafficking, slavery, and most commonly, sex work. 

In May 2022, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) published a report with shocking evidence that climate change, migration, and human trafficking are all intertwined. According to IIED’s report, “factors such as poverty, social marginalisation, uneven development, and gender inequality are recognised as shaping vulnerability to human trafficking.” The report also highlights the drivers that governments can identify in order to tackle these issues, such as “how localised climate change impacts exacerbate the same factors that shape vulnerability to human trafficking.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) also published a report in 2016 regarding the nexus between trafficking and climate change. In the report, IOM states that “there needs to be an acknowledgement that human trafficking can be an unintended but direct consequence when migration occurs in the absence of government support and management, after disasters or in the face of slow-onset events.”

Furthermore, according to the IOM, both sudden and slow-onset events impact human trafficking. 

Sudden-onset events wreak havoc on the lives and livelihoods of people without safety nets, resulting in an immediate fall into poverty. Displacement is likely to occur in the early aftermath of a disaster, providing an opportunity for traffickers to operate and exploit those who have been touched by the disaster in their search for safety and a way to earn money to help them rebuild their lives. 

These events can have a greater influence on people than slow-onset occurrences, which can have a more gradual effect.

It must be mentioned that sex work and trafficking are different. Sex trafficking refers to the practise of selling sex by means of abduction, threats, or other forms of oppression. However, when human rights are not violated in the practise of selling consensual sex, this is referred to as “sex work.” However, it doesn’t change the fact that both are left vulnerable to exploitation due to the climate crisis.

Why is this the case?

It’s true that there are numerous reasons why people turn to sex work, but for the most part, it is a last resort. Cardi B, the award-winning rap artist, began exotic dancing at the age of 18 to escape her violent and financially precarious environment.

However, the other side of the coin is less empowering and more concerning. 

Zimbabwe is one of 103 nations across the world where sex work is illegal. It is also one of the nations where women and girls are forced into sex work due to the climate crisis.

Most of these girls in Zimbabwe have the same story: they couldn’t afford to stay in school. Many moved to the capital in search of a better life by being nannies or domestic helpers, since they did not see a future in the countryside after years of drought and failing harvests. If these occupations don’t pan out for them, sex work is the simplest way to earn money. 

Other accounts describe how they didn’t expect to be sex workers as they expected to work in agriculture. However, flash floods in the countryside destroy crops and leave job opportunities low and hanging.

sex work green is the new black

IMAGE: via Pexels | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Two hands holding a ten U.S. dollar bill.


With the sudden COVID-19 pandemic, it left sex workers even more vulnerable and unsafe. Sex workers had to violate curfews and stay-at-home notices in order to earn money, and it’s not as simple as just staying out late.

Zimbabwean sex workers also had to face the threat of arrest while out on the streets seeking clients, forcing them to bribe police officers with their hard-earned money.

Similarly, in Phuket, Thailand, in spite of their contribution to the once-thriving tourism economy, sex workers have been refused relief cash amidst the pandemic. It is even worse for migrant and transgender prostitutes to receive community support, as despite the prevalence of sex work in the country, let alone Phuket, the profession is still stigmatised and marginalised in the community.

Due to the close contact nature of their profession, sex workers are not only in danger of contracting sexually transmitted diseases but also, most obviously, COVID-19. With bars and areas shut down during the bulk of the pandemic, most had no choice but to go back to their hometowns and use up their savings.

However, with the country opening up its borders again, the famous Bangla Road in Phuket is littered with tourists hoping to experience the red light district’s number one attraction.  


Sex work is real work

More than 55 million people have already been forced to leave their homes due to extreme weather, and the climate issue is likely to displace as many as 1 billion people by 2050.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, weather-related catastrophes have caused more displacement than conflict and violence in recent decades. Climate change not only affects us in the most obvious ways, and the less fortunate are often the ones taking the brunt of it in more ways than one.

If you think you’ve heard enough about climate change and its consequences, let this remind you that climate change affects everyone at any given time. While you are fortunate to not have to turn to sex employment, whether voluntarily or reluctantly, many individuals do. 

Organisations like the Sex Workers Project, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW), and Stop The Traffik offer insightful and reliable resources to understand and educate the public about the struggles sex workers and human trafficking victims go through. They also support and rescue those who are currently or previously trafficked and those who are in the sex work industry.

While many of us might not be able to support sex workers by paying for their services, the least we can do is be compassionate, understanding, and respectful. Sex workers are no different from the rest of us; they’re simply trying to make a livelihood the best way they can.


IMAGE: via Pixabay | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Three women pose in front of a neon-lit sign that says ‘love’ with only their silhouette visible.

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