Report warns sexual abuse remains "endemic" in the international aid sector

The committee says aid agencies have been subverted by sexual predators

Report warns sexual abuse remains "endemic" in the international aid sector

Oxfam-sign, Brussels, 09-01-2016. Winfried Rothermel/DPA/PA Images

A new report into sexual abuse among international aid workers has accused the sector of "complacency verging on complicity."

The UK Government report warns that the delivery of aid to communities facing crisis around the world has been subverted by sexual predators – with little done to tackle it.

The House of Commons International Development Committee (IDC) warned that sexual abuse remains "endemic" in the sector – and warns that agencies are "deluded" in their denial of "the horror of sexual exploitation and abuse."

The findings were included in a scathing report entitled, ‘Sexual Exploitation And Abuse In The Aid Sector.’

Haiti

The report was commissioned after sexual abuse by aid workers in Haiti was revealed by The Times newspaper.

It finds that – despite pledges from Oxfam, the UN and Save the Children that they would urgently implement safeguarding measures – little action appears to have been taken.

Committee chairman Stephen Twigg said the abuse remains "endemic" and insisted the sector is deluding itself by denying the ongoing abuse.

He said many things have changed in the sector in recent months but warned that “one thing has not - the abject failure of the international aid sector to get to grips with this issue, leaving victims at the mercy of those who seek to use power to abuse others.”

“This must be tackled," he said.

"Complacency"

He also accused the international aid sector of "complacency verging on complicity" regarding the issue.

“Humanitarian organisations and the UN cannot continue a ‘culture of denial’ when confronted with allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse,” he said

“The committee is deeply concerned that previous attempts have amounted to limited action in order to quell media clamour, with no lasting impact or redress.

“No matter how insurmountable this looks, solutions must be found. This horror must be confronted.”

The report says the delivery of aid to people and communities in crisis has been subverted by sexual predators with only superficial action taken to tackle it.

It finds that that a lack of barriers makes aid work an “attractive sector for people wishing to exploit others” and outlines “systematic criminal sexual exploitation,” for example in the form of human trafficking into prostitution as a result.

Sexual predators

Committee member Pauline Latham MP said: “It is happening now and the trouble is I believe there are men who are attracted to the aid industry as they are anonymous."

She said that other sections of society are clamping down on sexual predators - but that is not the case in the aid sector.

"They can be anonymous, they can go abroad, it's not a problem they think,” she said. “And they can get away with it."

She said aid agencies should be “vigilant and listening to girls.”

“But if you're a girl in a country who is getting aid and you think the only reason you are having sex with men is because they deliver aid, are you going to be a whistleblower? If you a vulnerable 14/15 year old?

“No, because they think the aid will stop and they desperately need it.

“So until that changes; until there's a clamp down where the aid agencies are working, then it's not going to stop.”

"Safety and dignity"

In a statement Oxfam said it is “committed to the safety and dignity of everyone who interacts with us.”

“We are determined to strengthen women's rights within Oxfam and in the communities in which we work,” it said.

"Since February, as part of our comprehensive action plan, we have tripled funding for safeguarding, established an independent whistleblowing helpline and committed to publish details of safeguarding cases twice a year."

The report calls for a zero-tolerance approach, which empowers the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid, proactively seeks out any issues and responds robustly, as well as demonstrating “transparency over reputation.”

MPs also want much stronger screening for known sexual predators, including a global register of aid workers who will operate according to expected standards, and an independent aid ombudsman to provide a right to appeal.

Additional reporting agencies ...