Abstract: (Withdrawn) Helping People in the Sex Trade during COVID-19: Engaging Israeli Aid Organizations in the Research Process in Order to Promote Social Change (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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(Withdrawn) Helping People in the Sex Trade during COVID-19: Engaging Israeli Aid Organizations in the Research Process in Order to Promote Social Change

Friday, January 13, 2023
South Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Guy Shilo, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Tel-Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
Einat Peled, PhD, Associate Professor, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
Ayelet Prior, MSW, Doctoral student, Tel Aviv university, Israel
Nur Shimei, PhD, Dr, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
Background and purpose: The worldwide collateral effects of COVID-19 are unequally and disproportionately affecting vulnerable and marginalized populations, among them people in the sex trade. Aid organizations were forced to quickly adapt to this new reality. Thus, the crisis created new challenges and exacerbated existing hardships for both the individuals in the sex trade (IST) and aid organizations. Accordingly, the purpose of this longitudinal study was to assess the changes, challenges and opportunities faced by Israel’s IST aid services, and Israeli IST, during the pandemic.

Methods: We conducted two waves of qualitative semi-structured interviews with 33 IST aid organization workers, representing all 23 IST aid organizations in Israel — after the first lockdown (May-June 2020) and a year into the pandemic (April-July 2021); Additionally, 30 IST were interviewed in the first wave.

The findings of the first wave of the interviews were sent back to the participants before the second wave. The aid organization workers were able to reflect over the findings of the study during the second wave of the interviews.

Findings: The interviews with aid organizations' workers revealed an increase in referrals and material and emotional needs among their clients. Focusing on provision of materiel needs while neglecting psychotherapeutic, medical or advocacy interventions has inevitably influenced aid-work in three central areas: therapeutic relationships, self-perception and self-worth of aid workers, and in revealing organizational strengths. ISTs described how and to what extent sex work helped them to cope with COVID-19 related needs, and the obstacles and facilitating factors met when trying to secure aid. Both groups related to the role of online and distance therapeutic interventions during the crisis.

When invited to give feedback about the finding of the first wave, the participants acknowledged that it was the first opportunity they had to reflect over the tremendous changes they were forced to make during the pandemic. This reflection enabled the aid organization workers an opportunity to embrace the positive changes in their working methods, beyond the crisis of the pandemic. It also allowed them an opportunity to reevaluate how they continue to deal with the pandemic, beyond the immediate crisis of its outbreak.

Conclusions and Implications: The pandemic exposed service, funding and policy gaps that further marginalize IST populations. It has also demonstrated the strengths and flexibility of IST aid organizations and workers and the value of inter-organizational support during the crisis to the improvement of services for diverse IST populations.

The huge crisis of the global pandemic forces aid-organizations to immediately react and adjust their working methods in order to continue supporting their clients. Such need to act within an ongoing crisis usually doesn’t allow social workers to apply the most adequate and research-based practices. The longitudinal research method and the possibility to offer social workers a real-time glance to their changing working methods was of great value. It enabled social workers an opportunity to reflect and evaluate their actions, and to adjust their practices accordingly.