Changing Lives, alongside a number of our partners, are calling on Government to do more to protect women who are experiencing sexual violence or sexual abuse during the Covid-19 outbreak. The Open Letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, has been signed by a number of charities working to support women who are affected, many of whom have existing vulnerabilities, such as extreme poverty, homelessness or poor mental health.

The letter calls for additional support for women who are being systematically targeted for sexual exploitation or forced to turn to ‘survival sex’ as a result of the current crisis. This often follows a different pattern, and happens in different environments, to domestic abuse, but is just as harmful.

The letter outlines concerns that:

  • More women are resorting to selling sex – often for the first time – as they have no other options to meet basic needs such as food, shelter and to provide for their children.
  • Perpetrators of sexual violence are taking advantage of the lockdown conditions to keep women and girls in extremely dangerous situations where they are subjected to repeat incidents of sexual exploitation.
  • Women experiencing sexual violence during lockdown in the home are struggling to access a route to safety, which is indicated by a reduction in reports to our services.

The group of charities, led by Changing Lives, is calling on Government to:

  • Ensure that victims of sexual violence are included in local and national plans;
  • Send a clear message to perpetrators that sexual offences will be prosecuted throughout the pandemic;
  • Ensure that there are sufficient numbers of trained staff within the police force to support victims reporting sexual offences;
  • Provide single-sex accommodation for women fleeing sexual violence and exploitation and that women in these circumstances are treated with the same automatic priority need as those experiencing domestic abuse;
  • Commit to funding charities working with women involved in sex work, survival sex and/or sexual exploitation to prevent vital services from closing during the pandemic.

Laura Seebohm, Executive Director at Changing Lives, said: “Since lockdown measures were introduced, our teams have become increasingly concerned that the victimisation of women we support at Changing Lives has increased. At the same time, it is more hidden than ever, as they are sexually abused and exploited behind closed doors.

“We are also seeing more women selling sex and put at risk as a means to survive the poverty so exacerbated by Covid-19.  We want to ensure that women come forward and report all incidents of sexual violence.”

Sexual exploitation can take many forms, from offering accommodation or food in exchange for sex, to forcibly taking over someone’s home (known as ‘cuckolding’) and forcing them to have sex with other people. Charities like Changing Lives, which provides refuges and safe accommodation, alongside trauma-informed support services, provide a vital lifeline to many women who have experienced sexual exploitation and sexual violence.

Laura said: “The women we support need to know that they can flee exploitative situations and find alternative accommodation, and that if contacted the Police will respond and they will be safeguarded.

“We also want to see greater support for women who are not able to survive financially, to prevent them from turning to selling sex as a last resort. This is why we, along with our partners, have written this open letter to the Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland.”

You can download a full copy of the letter here.

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