13. Women involved in prostitution and Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Throughout Phases 1 to 3 there was evidence that women involved in prostitution continued to meet in person. In some of these cases, women advertised that they used precautions against the virus.
The economic impact of lockdown and the subsequent phases had a significant impact on women in prostitution and CSE. Online advertisements continued to make reference to Coronavirus and women's challenging financial situation as the justification for engaging in online work. Many support organisations established destitution funds and/or worked in partnership with other third sector and statutory organisations to access crisis resources for women. In particular, the Encompass Network Fund was established to offer destitution funds for women involved in selling or exchanging sex, who were affected by COVID-19 and in need of financial help. During Phase 3, Encompass Fund administrators noted that: a significant number of applicants to the Encompass fund were mothers presenting in financial crisis; applicants indicated they wished to exit prostitution in the near or short term future; and many applications related to rent arrears, council tax arrears, food, fuel or essential resources for children. Organisations reported that the stigma associated with prostitution prevented some women for applying for destitution grants or other support, because the majority of these services required women to provide their real name, proof of identification, a current address and other personal details, which they were reluctant to share due to concerns around confidentiality and anonymity.
Organisations reported that the announcement in phase 2 that individuals who live alone could meet indoors with a partner without physical distancing meant that many women in prostitution returned to selling sex, with many reporting pressure from customers and managers to do so. During phase 2, services also observed an increasing number of aggressive online posts putting pressure on women to meet in person for direct sex and discouraging others from engaging only in online activity.
Research suggested that Scotland's move into Phase 3 had a number of impacts for women in prostitution and CSE. Support services observed an increase in new women entering prostitution, the majority citing financial reasons for their involvement. Some organisations restarted outreach work during this period and workers observed women selling sex and men purchasing sex in some public areas during the weekend evenings. The reopening of hotels, bars and restaurants was reported to have a significant on women in prostitution, with many returning to selling sex at this point. Some women reported they were trying to engage with as many punters as possible during this period in case another lockdown was imposed that would prevent them from generating income. Further, there were some online forum posts and advertisements indicating an increase in women touring, with some women travelling to Scotland from England for this purpose. Services noted the challenges of engaging with a wide range of women, some who are new and therefore not engaged in or aware of supports, along with a transient group who move or are moved around.
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