Sex abuse endemic in aid sector: UK parliamentary probe

LONDON • Sexual exploitation is endemic across the international aid sector, which is delusional about its efforts to tackle the problem, a British parliamentary investigation found in a damning report.

The report on sexual exploitation and abuse in the sector, produced by the International Development Committee (IDC) of MPs and released yesterday, said self-regulation had completely failed to deal with the issue.

"The overall impression is one of complacency, verging on complicity," the report said.

Lawmakers were investigating the aid sector following revelations earlier this year that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in Haiti during a relief mission after the country's 2010 earthquake.

That triggered a flood of complaints across the sector, sparking global outrage. Reports have also surfaced of Syrian women being sexually exploited in return for aid, and the harassment of women in the head offices of global charities.

The British parliamentary committee said the scale of the problem was impossible to define but there were suspicions that the known cases so far were just the tip of the iceberg.

"Sexual exploitation and abuse is happening and it is happening across organisations, countries and institutions. It is endemic, and it has been for a long time," the parliamentary report said.

COMPLACENCY

The overall impression is one of complacency, verging on complicity.

BRITAIN'S INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE, in a parliamentary investigation report.

FAILED TO PROTECT WOMEN

We failed to protect vulnerable women in Haiti, and we accept we should have reported more clearly at the time - for that we are truly sorry.

OXFAM CHAIR OF TRUSTEES CAROLINE THOMSON, on revelations this year that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in Haiti during a quake relief mission in 2010.

"The delivery of aid to people and communities in crisis has been subverted by sexual predators who exploit weakened systems of governance.

"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... must be tackled," said Mr Stephen Twigg, chairman of the IDC.

The committee called for a global register of aid workers, to prevent sexual predators seeking to drift around the sector, and better reporting mechanisms for whistleblowers.

A survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in February found more than 120 staff from about 20 leading global charities were fired or lost their jobs last year over sexual misconduct.

Britain is hosting an international safeguarding conference on Oct 18 aimed at striking a common front agreement across the sector.

Ms Judith Brodie, who heads Bond, Britain's network of international development non-governmental organisations, said the sector was working to end sex abuse.

"The increased public attention on safeguarding has resulted in more people coming forward to report allegations and incidents," said Ms Brodie. "This is a sign that the culture around safeguarding is shifting."

Oxfam chair of trustees Caroline Thomson said: "We failed to protect vulnerable women in Haiti, and we accept we should have reported more clearly at the time - for that we are truly sorry."

Britain's International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said survivors needed to be put first. "Until the sector is fully prepared to address the power imbalance, cultures and behaviours that allow sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment to happen, we will never stamp it out," she said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2018, with the headline 'Sex abuse endemic in aid sector: UK parliamentary probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe