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A Charity Says More Women Are Selling Sex Online Because Of Financial Hardships Caused By Covid

4 min read

A charity based in the North of England has called on the government to do more to tackle sexual exploitation after its research suggested an increasing number of women are advertising services on adult forums because of financial hardships created by Covid-19.

Changing Lives, which offers support for women selling sex and experiencing sexual exploitation, says it has seen an 83% increase in the number of women accessing its services for the first time in the first four months of lockdown alone. 

In its latest report it studied 900 profiles of women in the North of England using online adult forums, and found examples of them citing the pandemic directly as the reason for their adverts. They described struggling to pay rent and bills, while others working in the hospitality and travel industries said their place of work had shut down. 

Among the adverts identified by the charity included one woman looking to sell pictures, video calls, personalised porn, or “anything at all” saying she had lost her job because her place of work had shut down and she was waiting four weeks for Universal Credit. 

She said she was desperate for food and electricity. 

A 31-year-old other of two, said she had struggled through lockdown as she had lost her job in a café. 

“Times have got harder and I’m struggling to get by day to day. 

“I don’t really no what I expect but hey ho, let’s see,” she wrote in her advert.

A 20-year-old student wrote that she needed a deposit for a new place to live. “I hate begging but don’t know what else to do.”

While there has been awareness of a rise in domestic violence in the pandemic, Changing Lives has said cases of sexual exploitation have not been researched to the same degree.

The charity also said there were a high number of young women using the sites, which raised further concerns about child exploitation. Of the 911 profiles the charity looked at across the two specialist adult services, they most commonly belonged to women aged 18-25. 

Laura Seebohm, the charity’s executive director, said: “We found that women have felt they have no options other than to sell or exchange sex to be able to buy food, secure somewhere to stay or provide for their children. 

“It is not acceptable that women have had to engage in survival sex – selling or exchanging sex to meet an immediate need – in order to get through the pandemic.”

She said the restrictions in place throughout lockdown, which saw women turning to the online sites, put them at serious risk of sexual exploitation and other harms and many of the women would already have complex vulnerabilities.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said: “Poverty is a real impact of this pandemic and it is without a doubt that more government funding and specialist support is needed. Some of these women have never been in this situation before but the current crisis has pushed them to the brink.”

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, Chair of the House of Lords Public Services Committee, said: “This Changing Lives report highlights the stark reality that too many women have been faced with during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“It is a travesty that women who were already experiencing vulnerabilities including homelessness and abuse have been let down so badly, without access to the support and care that is needed. I support Changing Lives in calling for stronger safeguards to ensure that women who are being sexually exploited are better protected under the law.”

Changing Lives is today calling on the government to make a number of commitments following the release of their Net Reach report. 

They include long-term funding for specialist services to support women selling sex and who may be experiencing sexual exploitation. They also want to ensure subscription-based adult websites and free community selling pages, have more stringent ID and age verification.

They also want to see the rapid progression of the Online Harms Bill through the Commons which is a step forward in tackling online abuse and sexual exploitation and for the Minister for Safeguarding to introduce a statutory duty for councils to respond to the circumstances which may lead women and girls to become involved in selling sex.

The research was carried out in Darlington, Doncaster, Durham, Liverpool, Northumbria, Walsall, Wolverhampton and York, which is where Changing Lives is based, and the women were contacted and offered support by the charity. 

Earlier research carried out by Changing Lives released in October found there had been an 83 percent increase in the number of women accessing their services for the first time in the first four months of lockdown.

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