In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, business closures, mandatory quarantine, and social distancing guidelines have upended the health, safety and financial security of residents in the State of Florida and across the United States.
As of last Sunday May 17, there were 45,588 positive cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Florida. There were 1,973 deaths reported and 8,230 hospitalizations, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The effects of the state and local health and safety measures have especially impacted our Southwest Florida community, particularly Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. In Southwest Florida there were 3,070 reported cases of the novel coronavirus and 176 deaths.
Unemployment in Southwest Florida increased nearly 70% in just three months — from 2.6 percent in December 2019 to 4.3 percent at the end of March. The April month-end numbers are not available yet, but are expected to be even bleaker.
For the unemployed and underemployed, the health crisis has meant scrambling for government assistance programs and financial help that is becoming increasingly scarce. Many Southwest Florida residents are still struggling to get unemployment benefits weeks or even months after losing work. The City of Fort Myers Emergency COVID-19 Microenterprise Loan Program and the Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance Program both closed on April 24 and no additional applications will be accepted by the City.
Florida is currently in Phase 1 of its multi-stage reopening plan, with restaurants, retail stores, museums, libraries, gyms, and fitness centers operating at 50% indoor capacity as long as staff and clients follow social distancing guidelines. But for most adults, with mounting credit card debt, overdue rent and mortgage payments and escalating day to day expenses, the light at the end of the tunnel seems far away.
One frequently overlooked sector of the American economy severely impacted by the current pandemic is the adult entertainment industry. Exotic dancing, legal prostitution, adult film production, and escort services, which all necessitate a close level of human contact, have been devastated by social distancing measures, and unless or until a vaccine is widely available, a rebound is unlikely.
A sign of these unprecedented times, the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry, hosted a live Zoom webinar to help performers adapt to the current situation, entitled “Surviving During a Pandemic” offering a mix of career advice, emotional support and access to available financial resources.
Women who work in the adult entertainment industry, whether as dancers, actresses or models, are often classified by employers as independent contractors. Consequently, they lack a financial safety net. There are no 401k accounts or social security benefits to draw from. They are reliant on cash tips for their livelihood. When the customers stopped calling and doors to local clubs like Lookers, Babe’s and Scarlett’s Cabaret were closed, many women, excluded from unemployment insurance and other government aid, started looking for help in an unlikely place, online.
“The world’s oldest profession made the transition to digital a long time ago. Venerable names in adult entertainment, like Playboy and Penthouse, which once had a hegemony on the male gaze, have ceded ground to promising online upstarts like PornHub, a popular adult entertainment website that counted 42 billion (that’s with a “b”) visits in 2019, and that was before COVID-19,” explains Todd William, founder and CEO of Reputation Rhino, an online reputation management company in New York City.
Other sites, like New Jersey-based FanCentro, created an innovative premium social network for influencers to attract a wider audience. They can monetize their online persona from the comfort of home, providing safety, security and financial independence in a profession that has been frequently marred by abuse and exploitation.
In a recent article in The Economist, FanCentro reported 64.56% more signups in April 2020, compared to April 2019.
“The popularity of social networking sites like Instagram and Snapchat have allowed adult performers to grow their audience exponentially and parlay this influence online into a payday,” adds William.
It’s not easy work. Often the talent must work late into the night and long into the morning to satisfy customers that are as likely to be located in Naples, Italy as Naples, Florida. Also, the pressure to stand out from increased competition has been a unique challenge of the current environment, but overall the artists seem to be enjoying greater freedom and autonomy, not to mention money.
Performers on FanCentro can make anywhere from about $500 to more than $30,000 a month.
The coronavirus crisis may have claimed hundreds of thousands of victims around the world and triggered the worst economic crisis in nearly a century, but for the adult entertainment industry, social-distancing and work-from-home has created a unique opportunity for self-motivated entrepreneurs.
As local communities return to a new normal, the adult entertainment industry, with live-streaming, on-demand video chats and personalized virtual-reality experiences, is undergoing a virus-inspired revolution, and making a difference for women displaced by the pandemic who are looking for a safer alternative to dark, smoky nightclubs and seedy brothels.
William Jones is an Online marketing specialist and consultant with more than 15 years of experience in marketing. His expertise in marketing includes website design, email marketing, SEO, blogging, PPC, social media marketing, and online reputation management for businesses.