Letter to UN-Secretary-General Guterres from CAP International about COVID-19

Dear Secretary-General Guterres,

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 sextrafficked, 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 structur alin equalities 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 at ​ and​.