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Sexually Exploited Women Report 62% Rise In Sexual Violence During Covid Pandemic

Rachel Wearmouth
·Political correspondent, HuffPost UK
·3 min read

Sexually exploited women and sex workers reported a 62% increase in sexual violence during the first four months of the Covid-19 pandemic, a leading charity has found.

Yet not a single offence reported to police by the women helped by Changing Lives has resulted in a conviction for nearly two years.

Data collected by the charity, which supports vulnerable people facing housing insecurity, also found a marked increase in repeat victimisation, with women experiencing multiple crimes against them – including sexual violence, physical violence and domestic abuse.

The shocking study used information from the charity’s services, which support more than 1,850 women across the north-east, Yorkshire and the Midlands.

Amid calls for home secretary Priti Patel to do more to support women amid lockdown restrictions, the charity also said there was reason to believe the figure could be higher in other parts of the country.

Sexually exploited women in the north-east reported a 179% increase in sexual violence, where the charity believes confidence in reporting to the police force could be higher.

(Photo: MarijaRadovic via Getty Images)
(Photo: MarijaRadovic via Getty Images)

Jennifer Harrison, head of policy and public affairs at Changing Lives, was among the contributors to the charity’s new report “Nowhere To Turn”.

She said: “We are concerned that this increase does not reflect the true extent of the sexual violence and abuse happening in our communities.

“For example, in the north-east there has been an increase of 179% and we believe this is closer to the reality of women’s experiences because there has been a sustained commitment and investment in multi-agency working across this area.

“In 2013, Northumbria Police created a dedicated liaison officer role trained in supporting people selling sex and adults exposed to sexual exploitation. Over time, this model is shown to have increased women’s confidence to disclose crimes to services and report crimes to police.”

The charity said the women surveyed were already at increased risk of harm due to existing vulnerabilities, such as homelessness, addiction, and poverty, and are slipping through the net.

<strong>Home secretary Priti Patel faces calls to support sexually exploited women facing abuse during lockdown</strong> (Photo: Empics Entertainment)
Home secretary Priti Patel faces calls to support sexually exploited women facing abuse during lockdown (Photo: Empics Entertainment)

The charity also reports an 83% increase in women seeking its help.

Harrison added: “We decided to conduct this research because we became increasingly concerned that women with existing vulnerabilities were at increased risk of sexual violence.

“We saw an 83% increase in the number of women accessing our specialist services for the first time in the first four months of lockdown.

“We continue to see unprecedented demand for our services, as well as significant and adverse impacts on women’s physical and mental health, including an increase in suicide attempts and self-harm.”

And three quarters of the charity’s own services told the survey that women they worked with were “somewhat unconfident” or “very unconfident” of reporting crimes to police.

It added that, of the disclosures made to police, more than two fifths were investigated and closed because the victim decided to withdraw.

Changing Lives staff say reasons for this include, stigma and discrimination, fear of criminalisation, and victim-blaming.

Patel handed domestic abuse support lines an extra £2m in April and chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that charities can apply for a slice of £750m additional funding allotted to good causes.

But Laura Seebohm, executive director of external affairs at the charity, said the government needed to better target support at sexually exploited women.

She said: “The women we support feel they are unable to access justice. Across all of the services included in our research, there have been zero convictions for any sexual offences reported to the police since the beginning of 2019.

“As the pandemic continues, we are calling for urgent action to support women with existing vulnerabilities who are selling sex and/or experiencing sexual exploitation, including increased provision of specialist services and greater protection under the law.”

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.