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Rampant Violence Reported by Activists for Sex Workers, LGBTQ+ People


A new report details how COVID-19 is exacerbating government crackdowns on human rights activists.

On the eve of Thursday's International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, the human rights organization Front Line Defenders released a report documenting a "sharp increase in violence" against international advocates for LGBTQ+ people and sex workers.

The violence has corresponded with the current pandemic, with the report -- entitled "LGBTIQ+ and Sex Worker Rights Defenders at Risk During COVID-19" -- culled from interviews conducted between April and August 2020. Researchers from the Dublin-based Front Line Defenders spoke to more than 50 human rights activists in 13 nations, including some known as hostile to LGBTQ+ people and sex workers, like Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, and El Salvador. The human rights defenders, or "HRDs" as Front Line Defenders refers to them, described governmental raids, arrests, physical attacks, sexual assaults, and harassment by security forces.

One specific incident detailed in the report was a series of attacks against activists' homes in Tanzania after government officials discovered they were housing vulnerable sex workers and LGBTQ+ people.

As part of the report, LGBTQ+ activist Amazin LeThi filmed video interviews with some of the HRDs chronicled in the report.

"The human rights defenders who gave their stories to this investigation are enduring violent attacks, raids on shelters, arrests, and rampant stigmatization for peacefully demanding that their communities have access to food, shelter and healthcare during COVID-19," LeThi says. "Each horrific story of violence and discrimination I heard was told by an activist who persists in their struggle despite the risks."

To accompany the investigation, mental health artist and feminist Sravya Attaluri worked with defenders featured in the report to depict them "as they deserve to see themselves: safe, powerful, beautiful and surrounded by their communities."

Art by Sravya Attaluri

The report highlights how COVID-19 is severely impacting some of the world's most marginalized people, including LGBTQ+ people and sex workers, and especially LGBTQ+ sex workers. With the pandemic impacting the livelihoods of these groups, activists have moved to house them and provide them with resources, which has put some of these HRDs in the crosshairs of antagonistic police and government officials.

"Almost every week since COVID-19 began, I've received photos of violent attacks on the homes of LGBTIQ+ human rights defenders," says Erin Kilbride, researcher and author of the new report. "Activists around the world have turned their homes into emergency shelters for homeless LGBTIQ+ community members, in part because collective care and mutual aid have always been foundational to queer life. The defenders in this report are enduring severe physical, sexual and psychological trauma for helping their communities survive this pandemic."

The report also uncovered mass arrests at the offices of LGBTQ+ organizations, closures of HRD-run medical clinics, slandering HRDs and LGBTQ+ people as spreaders of COVID-19, and sexual harassment and detention of transgender activists at security checkpoints. Front Line Defenders released the following infographic detailing a trans activist's experience in Zimbabwe.


Read the full report here. Front Line Defenders plans to release an even more expansive report, "Sex Worker Rights Defenders At Risk," in early 2021. Visit for more information and ways you can help.

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