Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector Contents
229.We have heard how the delivery of aid, whilst providing lifesaving resources to people and communities in crisis, can also be subverted by sexual predators into a channel through which they can magnify their power and use possession of those resources to exploit and abuse some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We must not turn away from the horror of it. We have a duty to confront it.
230.Having understood the length of time that the sector has been aware of these issues, we reflect with confusion on the apparent shock of those we spoke to in the immediate aftermath of the Times report. This has been a known problem in the international aid sector for years. We have heard examples of how individuals within the sector have sought attention on this problem from those on higher rungs, but have gained little traction. We have been told of instances when those who have reported cases of sexual exploitation and abuse have been belittled, ostracised and silenced. DFID told us that they have always responded properly to reports of sexual exploitation and abuse, but the evidence that we have seen indicates that the department has, historically, failed to display leadership and engagement. There is so much more that could have been done.
231.The problem was brought to the forefront of public attention this year by the media, to whom we owe a debt. But we should not have needed a media scandal to trigger the level of response that we have witnessed since February. The periodic revelations of sexual exploitation and abuse within the aid sector since 2002 have meant that policies, codes of conduct and response measures have been developed, but the aid sector has then deceived itself into thinking that it has dealt with the problem and the focus has faded. The intermittent attention means that little has been properly implemented. Meaningful implementation requires sustained engagement, and it requires money. This is what we must now see going forward.
232.A full response to sexual exploitation and abuse hinges on: empowerment, reporting, accountability and screening.
- Empowerment: we believe that the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid should be provided -- alongside water, food, shelter, sanitation and security -- with knowledge and confidence in their rights. Crucially then, there needs to be, from the start, on-the-ground, well-designed, victim-centred, arrangements for where to go, and who to talk to, if those rights are threatened or violated. And those contacts need to be trained and confident in the effective next stages.
- Reporting: reports of sexual exploitation and abuse should be sought proactively, and responded to robustly. This will require resources and it is incumbent on DFID and other donors to provide these. Victims and survivors should receive feedback on the progress of these reports, and the ultimate outcomes.
- Accountability: reports of sexual exploitation and abuse must be followed by investigation and confirmation must be met with accountability for the perpetrator (only then will the loop be closed and deterrence introduced). This will not happen unless aid organisations embody and exhibit a zero tolerance culture on sexual exploitation and abuse, creating an environment in which staff feel safe and encouraged to speak up about incidents, and in which they have confidence that these reports will be met with a response. Aid organisations are accountable to their donors and the public for how reports of incidents are handled, and this requires a culture of transparency that trumps the desire to manage reputations. Donors and the Charity Commission in turn have a responsibility to press for this transparency, and create an environment in which organisations are not penalised for openness. Even with these improvements, we cannot rely on the sector’s self-regulation. Accountability to beneficiaries would be enhanced by the establishment of an independent aid ombudsman, to provide an avenue through which victims and survivors can appeal for justice and recompense, if they are unable to find this through the established channels.
- Screening: improved reporting and accountability will result in a greater number of known perpetrators. It is imperative that they are not able to move into new positions where they can abuse again. We need to see a rapid improvement of the methods for screening staff to prevent this from happening. In the short term, this means strengthening referencing practices to improve the way that organisations communicate with each other about potentially dangerous individuals. In the longer term, this means a global register of aid workers who we can trust to operate according to the standards that we expect.
233.These measures are interlinked and essential to each other. There can be no missing link in the chain. The forthcoming International Safeguarding Conference presents an opportunity for DFID to secure commitments from across the aid sector to move these measures forward, but the response does not end there. This is not an issue that can be tackled by ticking boxes. The Conference is the start of a process, and only through sustained engagement, leadership and funding will we see transformational change.