Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector Contents

11Reporting sexual harassment and abuse

206.Based on their academic research into sexual harassment and assault against humanitarian aid workers, Professor Mazurana and Phoebe Donnelly concluded that this harassment and assault “remains grossly under-reported”.349 This is clearly one of the most consistent features of this issue; that the victims and survivors - no matter what their situation age or status - find it difficult to report abuse, on one or more of many potential grounds.

207.In the evidence we received, we noted a number of reasons why there might be barriers to reporting. Changing Aid, drawing on results of an anonymous survey conducted between February and March 2018, told us that amongst their 81 respondents, there was a lack of confidence in existing mechanisms for responding to allegations of workplace sexual harassment. Some respondents were distrustful of their organisations’ own HR teams, others of third-party anonymous hotlines. The reasons behind a lack of confidence in existing procedures included a fear of repercussions or retaliation, as well as the belief that nothing would be done: “It was felt that many senior male staff can continue working or go on to other jobs with impunity, while women are penalised”.350 Christian Aid wrote that the barriers may be greater in relation to national staff than expatriates:

We are aware that national staff are much less likely to speak up and staff can be wary of official reporting mechanisms. They are more likely to confide in colleagues they trust, of the same level, so locally based focal points may prove more effective.351

208.According to Professor Mazurana and Phoebe Donnelly, the experiences of those who did report harassment and assault were disappointing, and even damaging to their careers:

Women and LGBT aid professionals who did report were widely dissatisfied with their agencies’ responses and experienced more harmful professional and personal consequences than those of their alleged perpetrators, who at times remained in their positions and continued perpetrating.352

209.They also highlight the lack of support provided within organisations for those who report sexual harassment and assault:

Within humanitarian agencies, there is a widespread lack of adequate physical and, especially, psychological and emotional health care available for victims/survivors of sexual assault. In addition, work-related injuries are rarely compensated for, particularly for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other psychological and emotional care needs.353

210.Noting reports of retaliation against aid workers who have reported sexual harassment and abuse, Changing Aid commented:

if a woman of privilege, working on gender-related issues is unable to report abuse occurring–then what chance does an adolescent girl in a humanitarian affected community have?354

211.The Humanitarian Women’s Network has called on IASC to establish immediately an objective reporting mechanism for aid workers who suffer discrimination, harassment and abuse, but this has not yet been adopted at scale, despite the “urgency and necessity” of doing so.355 The Network told us that “so much more needs to be done to improve hiring, accountability, and recourse”.356

212.Some of these criticisms seem to have been borne out by Save the Children, and the organisation’s handling of female staff members’ complaints of sexual harassment by senior, male staff. Justin Forsyth, former Chief Executive, and Brendan Cox, former Policy Director, Save the Children UK, both resigned from these roles due to separate episodes of alleged sexual harassment. One of the complainants against Mr Forsyth had, before his resignation, raised a second complaint with the organisation, about how her initial complaint had been dealt with.357 Mr Forsyth went on to become the Deputy Director of UNICEF.

213.The handling of these matters by Save the Children, under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Parker, is now the subject of a statutory inquiry by the Charity Commission. We await the Commission’s report with interest. In the same vein as the Commission’s Oxfam GB inquiry, we will be interested to see if there are any discrepancies in the evidence offered to us on these matters and the evidence and findings of the Commission.

214.In the case of Save the Children, there is little doubt that mistakes were made. Sir Alan Parker told us:

When I look back, there are many things we would have done differently. We would have done it in a way that would have settled it each time more appropriately. Very clearly, there were quite specific HR failings in this, which I must take on board. I was chairman at the time. We did not give the individuals the right information, we did not give them the right handbooks, we did not take them to the right places on the website to look at the processes and we did not really give them the right advice on the options.358

215.The current Chief Executive, Kevin Watkins, was even more candid:

“I profoundly regret that we have arrived at this juncture. Mistakes were made in this process. It is why the Charity Commission inquiry is so important. We need to learn from that inquiry and ensure these things never happen again. I absolutely regret and genuinely deeply apologise to the women who were affected by these events. Again, we owe it to all those women who were affected to ensure that we become the organisation that will never let this happen again. I accept those points. There is no question that mistakes were made”.359

216.We are deeply troubled by the fact that aid workers have reported a lack of trust in their employers to handle allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. We are even more concerned by reports of negative consequences for the complainant. Any organisation needs to create an environment in which those who suffer harassment and abuse are safe to report without fear of retaliation and with the confidence that their allegations will be taken seriously. Failure to do so not only leaves staff without recourse to recompense and justice, it also puts them at risk by allowing perpetrators to remain in post. In the case of aid sector organisations, the failure to be able to create trusted, safe, reliable reporting mechanisms within the workplace has dire implications for the way these organisations might encourage, facilitate and handle cases reported by aid beneficiaries who have been the victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.

349 Professor Dyan Mazurana and Phoebe Donnelly (SEA0008)

350 Changing Aid (SEA0025)

351 Christian Aid (SEA0031)

352 Professor Dyan Mazurana and Phoebe Donnelly (SEA0008)

353 Ibid

354 Changing Aid (SEA0025)

355 Humanitarian Women’s Network (SEA0057)

356 Humanitarian Women’s Network (SEA0057)

Published: 31 July 2018