Follow-up: sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector Contents


1.In July 2018, our report, “Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector (SEA)”, concluded that SEA is a longstanding, widespread issue with evidence of abuse having been found across different countries, organisations and institutions. SEA is ultimately an abuse of power and the aid sector can be one of extreme power imbalance, with those benefitting from aid, particularly in humanitarian crises, some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. No corner of the aid sector can consider itself immune from the risk of SEA. The problem is a collective one. We urged a full response from the sector hinging on: empowerment, reporting, accountability and screening, with victims and survivors at the centre of any processes, including the process of reform.1

2.In June 2019, the final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change (IC), established by Oxfam International, provided a sobering reminder that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to be a horrifying reality in development and humanitarian contexts. As part of the study, the IC commissioned in-depth research into the dynamics of sexual exploitation and abuse within refugee and host communities in three countries across Africa and Asia. The research team found that “sexual exploitation and abuse allegations were pervasive in two of the three research sites”. We were dismayed to read that, according to the findings:

We note the striking, and depressing, similarities between the issues identified in this report, published in June 2019, and those identified in previous independent reports revealing sexual exploitation and abuse in emergency settings in 2002 and 2008.3

3.In between publishing our original report and taking note of the findings set out above, we have followed up these issues by taking further oral and written evidence on the measures being taken by DFID, NGOs and private suppliers to raise safeguarding standards. We have primarily focused on efforts to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse of the beneficiaries of aid, but we remain very aware of how reforms in this area have implications for the protection of aid workers themselves from sexual abuse and harassment. We recognise that many in the aid sector appear now to be taking safeguarding much more seriously than they were previously. We also appreciate that it is unreasonable to expect that reforms galvanised by a strong focus over a single year would be enough to wipe out sexual exploitation and abuse entirely. However, we are disappointed in the progress made to date in several key areas. In this report, we set out our most pressing concerns.

4.Throughout this follow-up work, we have had the benefit of the guidance and advice of two specialist advisers whom we appointed in March 2019, Professor Rosa Freedman, Chair of Law, Conflict and Global Development, School of Law, University of Reading, and Ms. Asmita Naik, Independent Consultant on International Development and Human Rights, who also co-authored the 2018 Ombudsman study, referenced in this report. We are very grateful for their support. We are also grateful to our Reply Rapporteur on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Pauline Latham, the member of this Committee who first brought these issues to our attention and who remains committed to tackling sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in all parts of the aid sector, including by leading our follow-up work on this topic.

1 International Development Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2017–2019, “Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector”, HC840

2 Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change, “Committing to Change, Protecting People: Toward a more accountable Oxfam”, (June 2019)

Published: 17 October 2019