Progress on tackling the sexual exploitation and abuse of aid beneficiaries Contents

3Support for victims and survivors

Types of support for victims and survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse

44.Throughout this inquiry we have heard that a victim and survivor led approach is needed. Ensuring that support is available to victims and survivors when they experience exploitation and abuse, and that they know how to access it, is crucial to this. Sexual exploitation and abuse do not occur in a vacuum and often occur in a context where other forms of gender-based violence takes place. Victims and survivors of all forms of gender-based violence should have access to the support they need.

45.Support should be offered confidentially if this is the preference of the survivor and provision should be designed with the local population to ensure it is sensitive to local needs. The types of support that victims and survivors require will depend on the person and the context in which the exploitation or abuse occurred. Typical forms of support for victims of gender-based violence include psychological support, access to health services, case management and childcare. Victims and survivors might also need legal assistance if they wish to pursue legal justice. Alina Potts is a research scientist at The Global Women’s Institute, and she explained that providing this support can encourage victims and survivors to come forward and share more detail about the sexual exploitation and abuse they have experienced, however, she warned that access to support should not be contingent on their reporting specific instances of abuse.50 West Africa Correspondent at Thomson Reuters Foundation, Nellie Peyton agreed that providing these services can help to incentivise victims and survivors to come forward and she told us that the services should be set up in advance of abuses being reported.51

46.In its written evidence to our inquiry Oxfam stressed that gender-based violence (GBV) services are an essential part of effective response to sexual exploitation and abuse. Oxfam recommended that survivors should be referred to existing GBV support services in their own communities, to provide a culturally sensitive response unless a survivor wants to be relocated.52 However, Oxfam acknowledged that in many locations these services are lacking. It suggested that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) should increase its investment in gender-based violence services to ensure that survivors have access to assistance.53 Stephanie Draper CEO of Bond reiterated that women’s groups on the ground are well placed to support survivors and she said that there is a need to fund the work of women’s and child’s rights organisations that address all forms of gender-based violence.54 This is something that the FCDO should consider as part of its broader work on violence against women and girls.

47.Currently, different aid organisations take varying approaches to how they help victims and survivors to access the support they need. In its written evidence, Sightsavers told us that it undertakes mapping of services available in all the countries in which it operates.55 It said that that it will fund support services for individuals in cases where the organisation has established a duty of care towards the survivor, for example, if they have suffered abuse by one of its staff members. Sightsavers said they also consider the support needs of other people involved, including families, team members and partner staff, and where possible, it will combine support provision with other organisations who may be involved in the concern.56 Save the Children said it has produced a protocol, which outlines its approach to supporting anyone who raises a concern about exploitation and abuse. This includes allocating a Wellbeing Advisor to support them for the duration of any investigation and beyond.57 In addition, Save the Children said the Wellbeing Team is available to support any adult victim or survivor, regardless of whether they wish to participate in an investigation process and will help them to access the services they need.58

48.The Central Assurance Assessments of 31 DFID partner organisations undertaken by Keeping Children Safe which are explained in detail in Chapter 5, identified several recommendations relating to improvements to support for victims. As a result of these recommendations 29 organisations are:

strengthening procedures to support victims and survivors, to improve trust, integrity, confidentiality and prevent further harm.59

This indicates that this is an area in which majority of aid organisations can improve. Independent safeguarding consultant, Lucy Heaven Taylor stressed to us that support for victims and survivors should take a long-term approach.60 Victims and survivors will not access all services immediately so organisations need to consider how ongoing support will be provided, particularly in humanitarian responses where the situation might be changeable:

In terms of support generally to victims and survivors who come forward, there needs to be a recognition that it is not a case of us spamming them with all the support services that are available to them when they first come forward—although we obviously do provide support straight away—but that this is really a long-term engagement. Many survivors do not access support, certainly within the first three months after coming forward. It might be several years down the line.61

49.It is imperative that aid beneficiaries who become victims and survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse have access to the support and services they need, and they are informed how to safely use them. The potential need to provide these services should be factored in from the start of programmes, including at the planning stage. The FCDO should include the cost of supporting victims and survivors in grants and contracts for running programmes that it funds. The UK should work in partnership with victims and survivors to deliver the support they need, engaging with community-based organisations in country, to provide services to victims and survivors and providing funding and training if these are requested by those organisations. The FCDO should place requirements on its implementing partners to ensure that victims and survivors have free and safe access to the support and services they need and this support is not conditional on following a formal complaints process.

Access to justice

50.We heard differing views on how much effort the international community should devote to seeking criminal justice for victims. Not all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse will reach the criminal threshold, and some argue it’s not helpful to concentrate on this aspect specifically. Furthermore, the justice systems in the countries where aid organisations operate vary significantly.

51.When we asked independent consultant, Esther Dross whether victims and survivors can access legal support, she told us that it depends on the organisation and on the country. She said in some countries it is very difficult to identify what legal support you could get and for some it could be impossible.62 However, Lesley Adams, a lawyer, writer and social entrepreneur based in Nigeria warned against assuming that support will not be available in-country, instead she told us that local providers should be supported and strengthened:

Every single country in west Africa has some sort of infrastructure for the judicial resolution of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Many local organisations whose work it is to ensure that victims are supported through the process do not feel included and have not been consulted, and there is that huge gap.63

She told us that in her experience of working for Oxfam, safeguarding officers were not required to report to the local authorities. Instead, they reported to a regional safeguarding officer, which completely bypassed the local authorities. She recommended that the FCDO do more to build capacity at existing organisations who are working on the ground to support victims of rape and sexual assault and to increase prosecutions.64

52.Several witnesses also said the FCDO should use its position to work with countries that receive UK aid to help strengthen their justice mechanisms and provide better legal support for victims and survivors.65 International Justice Mission (IJM) has a team of lawyers, social workers and investigators who partner with governments and local authorities to help combat violence and exploitation in 13 countries. IJM said that in its experience the prevalence of abuse falls dramatically when local law enforcement agencies are trained and equipped to protect survivors and proactively hold perpetrators of violence to account.66 The experience that IJM gives a useful demonstration of how local law enforcement can be mobilised and strengthened to combat exploitation and abuse.

53.Although the aid sector faces additional challenges due the international nature of many of its perpetrators, the FCDO can use the experience of International Justice Mission to help inform how it can better support countries to strengthen their local justice mechanisms and ensure that survivors have confidence in local authorities to restrain their abusers and offer meaningful protection.

FCDO support

54.We considered the possibility of having an Independent, International Victims Commissioner based at the FCDO to support victims of British perpetrators, but the FCDO Minister with responsibility for safeguarding, Rt Hon James Cleverly MP raised reservations about the idea:

my concern about having this point is that it is not always easy for the victims of this to find a way of contacting the UK directly. We want to make sure that they have multiple routes for reporting.67

55.The Head of the FCDO’s safeguarding Unit, Peter Taylor said that people can report to the department by phone or email, or indirectly if people do not have access to those methods. He said the FCDO feels that it should concentrate on country level provisions:

the best route forward is to try to strengthen local national-level accountability and reporting mechanisms, rather than suggesting that somehow this should sit in FCDO […] with this new programme we will be looking to improve access to reporting for victims, survivors and whistleblowers, improve investigations of any allegations and make sure that the support services they require are better.68

During the Westminster Hall Debate on 4 November 2020 on Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Minister Cleverly announced that new support for victims and survivors is in the pipeline:

Following wide consultation, we have designed a new multi-million-pound programme of support to survivors and victims. We will provide further details in 2021.69

56.We welcome the Minister’s announcement of new support for victims and survivors and we ask that he provides this Committee with an update on that programme of support once further details are available. We agree with the approach that the FCDO says it is taking to work with and strengthen in-country justice mechanisms. However, we believe it might be helpful for some victims and survivors to be able to contact UK systems directly. Embassy and High Commission staff already have experience of working with the local justice systems in the countries where they are based, through helping British nationals to navigate them. This experience could be used to help support victims and survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse where the perpetrator was British or employed by a British aid organisation.

57.The FCDO should consider how it can join-up its diplomatic and aid functions to better support victims of sexual exploitation and abuse. UK High Commissions and Embassies in countries that receive UK Aid should develop the capacity to provide support to victims and survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse where the perpetrator was British or employed by a British aid organisation. In particular, they should use their experience and contacts to help the victims and survivors to navigate the local legal system, where applicable.


58.Our predecessor committee suggested new legislation could be used to prosecute aid workers who commit sexual offences overseas. It drew up a Draft International Development (Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups) Bill which was introduced, with leave of the House, on 4 July 2018, by the Chair of the Committee under the Ten Minute Rule (Standing Order No. 23).70

59.Witnesses to this inquiry told us that the UK could do more to use existing legislation to prosecute perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse that breach the criminal threshold. Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 allows individuals to be prosecuted in the UK for child sex offences overseas, however, it is very rarely used. Professor Andrew MacLeod, Co-Founder of Hear Their Cries argued that this legislation could be used to prosecute British aid workers. He also brought to our attention the Australian legislation which makes it a criminal offence not to report a child sex offence that has taken place overseas, and recommended the UK seek to replicate this provision.71 The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019–21 is currently progressing through the House of Lords and includes provisions relating to offences against the person committed outside the UK under sections 66 to 68.72

60.The Government should consider how the provisions included in sections 66 to 68 of The Domestic Abuse Bill 2019–21 could be applied to aid workers who commit sexual offences against adults overseas. It should also seek to use existing legislation to prosecute British aid workers who commit offences against children, as this would provide a strong deterrent.

50 Q4

59Summary of Findings from KCS Central Assurance Assessments of DFID Partners”, published by the Department for International Development, July 2020

69 HC Deb, 4 November, col 139 [Westminster Hall]

70 International Development Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2017–19, Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector, HC 840, Annex 3

72 HL Bill 124, Domestic Abuse Bill 2019–21

Published: 14 January 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement