UN response to COVID-19 must include sex trafficked, prostituted and sexually exploited persons who are made even more vulnerable by the pandemic

His Excellency Mr. António Guterres Secretary-General
United Nations

16 April 2020 

Dear Secretary-General Guterres, 

RE: UN response to COVID -19 must include sex trafficked, prostituted and sexually exploited persons who are made even more vulnerable by the pandemic 

On behalf of the undersigned, sex trade survivors, frontline service providers, and women’s and human rights activists, each dedicated to ending the sex trafficking and prostitution of women and girls in our respective countries and worldwide, we have the honor to transmit this letter to you. 

We applaud your efforts to highlight the impact of the COVID -19 pandemic on women and girls, and appreciate your call to address the global surge in domestic violence linked to the lockdowns. We are writing today to call on you to ensure that sex trafficked, prostituted and sexually exploited persons are also included in the UN’s response to COVID -19. 

COVID-19 is laying bare the world’s socio-economic structural inequalities, the failure of austerity measures, and clearly demonstrates how crises exacerbate the vulnerabilities of disadvantaged people. Prostituted persons, including victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, the majority of whom are women and girls, are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The United Nations must not leave them behind. 

The lives of prostituted persons are often rooted in structural inequalities , sex- and gender-based violence, discrimination, poverty, displacement, racism, xenophobia and systemic failures – which the pandemic has exposed and amplified. The COVID -19 outbreak is leaving prostituted persons exponentially vulnerable to new forms of abuse and is increasing poverty, as they lack safety nets. Every day, we receive reports that women in prostitution are burdened by their desperate need to survive, when no food, safe shelter, or medical assistance are available to them or to their children. They are in further danger of being re-trafficked and sexually exploited with all of the associated physical, psychological, and life-threatening harms, including increased risk of catching COVID -19 . Their access to support structures and exit services is increasingly limited, if existent at all. 

We are also documenting reports of increased online exploitation of women and children , including through a surge in the use of pornographic websites and other online exploitation vehicles. As men move online looking for non-contact opportunities for sexual gratification, they are joining sexual predators and profiteers who were already using the internet to exploit and abuse women and children at an unprecedented global scale. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 

the anonymity and ever-increasing connectivity afforded by the internet, which in the current environment is not being monitored by humans, means increasing numbers of women and children, especially adolescent girls, are vulnerable to grooming, online sexual exploitation and sextortion leading to sex trafficking. 

Our collective obligation to ensure that sex trafficked, prostituted and sexually exploited people, consisting overwhelmingly of women and children, are adequately protected and supported is both critical and urgent. We are calling on your office to establish a global fund for people exploited in the sex trade to enable them to access comprehensive services. Whilst the Fund would respond to immediate and short-term needs of these individuals, it would also focus on providing exit support for those who seek to leave systems of sexual exploitation. This Fund must be accessible to all women who are incarcerated and detained for prostitution-related charges. Finally, this Fund should support efforts, organizations or networks that, in line with international law and human rights principles, seek to address the structural inequalities that push women into prostitution rather than entrench a system where women and girls are exploited. The goal of the Fund should be to assist and uplift human beings who are bought and sold in the global multi-billion dollar sex trade; not further enable their profiteers or exploiters who deem sexual exploitation as a form of labour. In addition, we are calling on you to make addressing online sexual exploitation a priority as part of efforts to address the impact of the pandemic. 

We thank you for your leadership in promoting the rights of women and girls, and remain available to discuss the issues we have raised in this letter. 

Respectfully, 

Yasmeen Hassan
Global Executive Director Equality Now 

cc.
Ms. Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti
Chef de Cabinet to UN Secretary General

Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women  

Ms. Åsa Regnér,
Deputy Executive Director, UN Women

Taina Bien-Aime
Executive Director
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women 

Survivors: 

Aleida Carreño Buelvas
Aleida Ortiz Gonzales
Ally-Marie Diamond
Elisa Valera Soba
Elizabeth Soba Diaz
Fiji Phoenix 
Gabriela Lozano
Gloria Zuleima Carreño Buelvas
Grizelda Grootboom
Huschke Mau
Jeanette Westbrook 
Nidia Ramiez
Nomonde Mihlali Meiji Pilar Carreño
Simone Watson
SPACE International-USA Summer Carter
Survivor Exit
Survivors for Solutions Yanet Peña Peña
Yuli Duarte Peña 

Organizations: 

1000 Möjligheter/1000 Opportunities Action Against Violence and Exploitation AkiDwA
Amicale du Nid
Anti-Violence Network of Georgia
Apne Aap Women Worldwide
Arcidonna napoli
Asociación Feminista Tiemar
Associació de Dones Antígona
Association La Source
Association MARTA Centre
Association Mémoire Traumatique et Victimologie
Association Women for the Contemporary Society
Autonomous Women’s Center Belgrade Baby Milk Action
Breaking Free
Bridge North Women’s Mentorship & Advocacy Service
Bright Fame
Build a girl
Businesswomen Organisation of Lithuanian Ethnic Groups
CAP International
Center for Sustainable Communities Development
Central Arizona National Lawyers Guild 
Centre of Gender Culture
Charitable organization “Community Foundation of Kherson “Zakhyst”
Citrus Health Network
Civic Alliance Political action of women Clara-magazine
Coordination française du Lobby Européen des femmes
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP)
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) Colombian’s femicides Foundation Compass31.org
Consejo Nacional De Mujeres De Colombia Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES)
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (Global)
Conseil National des Femmes du Luxembourg
Corporación Mujer Denuncia y Muévete Courage for Freedom
ECPAT-USA
Eden’s Farm
Ehuleak-Comisión investigación malos tratos a mujeres de Navarra 
Embrace Dignity
End the War on Women Collective Engendered Collective
Equality Now
European Network of Migrant Women (ENoMW)
European Women’s Lobby
EVA Center
Exodus Cry
Femmes pour le Dire, Femmes pour Agir Femmes solidaires
FiLiA
Fondation Scelles
Forum femmes méditerranée
Fredrika Bremer-förbundet
Freedom Challenge
GenerationAbolition
GENFAMI
Hermanas Oblatas del Santísimo Redentor Hungarian Women’s Lobby (Magyar Női Érdekérvényesítő Szövetség)
Lanfuissue NGO
Iniciativa Pro Equidad
initiative feministe euromed IFE-EFI Institute for Feminism & Human Rights International Alliance of Women International Centre on Sexual Exploitation Isala Asbl
Journey Out
K&k confidential
Kafa (enough) Violence & Exploitation Kansai network about Japanese army KFUKs Sociale Arbjede, Denmark Klaipeda Social and Psychological Support Centre
la CLEF
La Voix des Femmes
Le Monde selon les femmes LibresarianneS
Life Bloom
Ligue du Droit International des Femmes London Abused Women’s Centre (Canada) M.A.L.I. Alternative Movement of Individual Liberties
Maisha E.V.-African Women in Germany 
Montreal Council of Women
Mujeres Supervivientes de violencias de género
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) UK
National Board of Catholic Women National Center on Sexual Exploitation National Women’s Council of Ireland
NGO “Center “Women’s perspectives”
NIA
Nordic Model Now!
OBJECT
Observatoire féministe des violences faites aux femmes (Belgique)
One Billion Rising
People Serving Girls At Risk
Persons Against Non-State Torture
Petra mujeres valientes
Plataforma Navarra de mujeres por la abolición de la prostitución
PornFreeCO
Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights Prostitution Research & Education
Rad fem Sweden Survivors
Realstars
Regards de Femmes
Resistenza Femminista
Réussir l’égalité Femmes-Hommes Rights4Girls
Romanian Women’s Lobby
Ruhama
S.H.A.D.E Movement
Samaritana Transformation Ministries, Inc. Scelles Foundation
Scientists for a world without prostitution SISTERS – for the Exit from Prostitution! E.V. (registered association)
Soroptimist International of Suburban Chicago
Swedish Women’s Lobby
Talita Asia
Tamasha Talkies Inc.
The InMaat Foundation 
Traductoras para la Abolición de la Prostitución
Unizon
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter 
Violence Against Women in War Research Action Center
Volyn Press Club
Wahine Toa Rising 
Widows Rights International women@thewell
Women Health Philippines Women’s Aid 
Women’s Equal Justice Project Women’s Support Project World Without Exploitation 

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