Sexual exploitation and abuse among the charity sector has been ongoing for a 'long time' and the sector is guilty of being almost 'complicit' in the scandal, a scathing report by MPs has revealed.
The report, published by the International Development Committee today, explores the scale of sexual abuse among the aid sector following a wave of media reports that shed light on the issue earlier this year.
MPs declared sexual abuse among the aid sector as an "endemic" and “confirmed under-reporting” means the exact scale of it is “impossible to define”. The report found the cases that have come to light, such as those at Oxfam and Save the Children, are “only the tip of the iceberg”.
“There seems to be a common thread in this apparent inability of the aid sector to deal well with allegations, complaints and cases involving sexual abuse. There seems to be a strong tendency for victims and whistleblowers, rather than perpetrators, to end up feeling penalised,” MPs said.
The damning report, which was founded on evidence from a number of people involved in the aid sector, proceeded to allege “so much more” could have been done among the sector to tackle the issue and the “episodic” responses to such cases have been “reactive, patchy and sluggish”.
A safeguarding 'deficit'
“Repeatedly, reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and/or peacekeepers have emerged, the sector has reacted, but then the focus has faded."
MPs suggested this response has led to a “safeguarding deficit”, whereby the existence of safeguarding policies and procedures “has never been effectively implemented”.
“This has meant that where worthwhile safeguarding measures have been developed, they have never been adequately funded. A reactive, cyclical approach, driven by concern for reputational management has not, and will never, bring about meaningful change."
'A lack of information must not be cause for inaction'
“Improving reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse is vital to understanding the problem, responding to it, and ultimately, to preventing it,” the report continued.
“The lack of information must not be a cause for inaction. Aid organisations and donors must consider this an absolute priority. The vulnerability of the victims and survivors of sexual abuse, and the power of the abuser, create multiple interlocking barriers to reporting.
“Practitioners within the aid sector have developed recommendations for how these can be overcome with victim-centred reporting mechanisms, but these have not been backed up with the resources required for implementation.”
MPs said it is “galling” to hear the main obstacle to progress in the area is a lack of funding, noting that donors must provide funds to support the implementation of reporting mechanisms that “have, at their core, an understanding of the extreme vulnerability of many of the people who are being asked to report.”
“These should go hand-in-hand with a broader programme of initiatives to increase understanding of beneficiaries’ rights and to tackle wider sexual and gender-based violence.”
Creating a culture of whistleblowing
Charities have previously been advised to create a culture of whistleblowing, whereby staff and volunteers feel they are able to raise and report concerns that arise anywhere within the charity.
The report stated it is important whistleblowing systems exist for the instances when the established reporting mechanisms fail.
“To be effective, these systems must be accessible and contain robust protections for the people who use them. But fundamental culture change is required to channel organisational energy into taking care of victims and tackling perpetrators rather than taking care of reputations and tackling whistleblowers,” it added.