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There must be consequences for shortcomings that lead to cases of abuse, including poor treatment of whistleblowers.
The International Development Select Committee today released a report raising the alarm that sexual exploitation and abuse of aid beneficiaries continues to take place with impunity.
In 2018, the relief industry was shaken by revelations that aid workers had paid local vulnerable women in Haiti for sex during the humanitarian response to the 2010 earthquake.
It was neither the first nor the last case of sexual exploitation and abuse by counselors.
During our survey, we found – through our online survey completed by those in the industry – that 26% of respondents claim to have witnessed sexual exploitation and abuse of aid recipients.
Abuse can occur when there is an imbalance in power, and such imbalances are almost always at the heart of humanitarian responses.
Aid organizations must be alert to this risk. All too often there is a lack of concerted action to face this reality, and aid agencies are becoming complicit in enabling sexual exploitation and abuse.
In the aftermath of the Haiti scandal, international security summit conferences were held, pledges signed and working groups convened.
Numerous organizations have hired abuse prevention coordinators, while others have introduced new training for staff. The FCDO recently published a strategy to protect against sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector.
There is no shortage of policies and procedures.
And yet abuse is still happening – and the UK government continues to fund organizations that are at the center of sexual abuse scandals.
Abuse within the aid sector is widespread – and until we accept this, we will not solve it.
Aid agencies need to realize that some of their employees are sexual predators
Examples we heard during the investigation included a case involving refugees in Uganda and Lebanon, and how they were victims of sexual exploitation and abuse at all points in a program that distributes survival equipment
We heard how many women were sexually exploited to access help to which they were already entitled.
Aid organizations must ensure that they tell recipients about their rights, entitlements and how to make a complaint.
My committee was shocked at the extent of sexual abuse of aid recipients during the 2018-2020 Ebola response in DRC when it learned that "sex for jobs" was an "open secret" among aid workers.
One woman described how she was told by a foreign WHO worker – through an interpreter – that she would have to sleep with him to get a job.
The UK is the WHO's largest donor.
The government must show zero tolerance and hold organizations – including multilateral organizations – to account for their security problems.
Aid beneficiaries are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and it is critical to embed security in every project.
We will not see real change until there is a profound transformation of the culture of the aid sector. That is why we will soon be starting a study to look at how concerns about culture change can be addressed.
If the industry is serious about preventing abuse, the solution is simple; enabling local communities, especially women's groups, to have greater say in the design and delivery of aid and to anchor protection from the outset.
Organizations funded by the FCDO should be required to report cases of abuse to it.
There must be consequences for deficiencies leading to cases of abuse, including maltreatment of whistleblowers.
Our survey found that 57% of those who tested their whistleblower policies and practices found them to be inadequate. Whistleblowers play a key role in uncovering abuse and enforcing action and must be protected.
I know the vast majority of counselors are good people, who will give their all to make a difference. But aid agencies need to realize that some of their staff are sexual predators.
Sarah Champion is the Labor MP for Rotherham and Chair of the International Development Committee.