Aid Sector ‘Last Safe Haven’ for Sexual Predators, Says Report Following Oxfam Scandal

EL-FASHER, SUDAN: A Sudanese girl waits to use toilets set up by the British aid organization Oxfam in the Abu Shouk refugee camp, on the outskirts of El-Fasher in Sudan's northern Darfur region 30 November 204. Sudan today said it was reviewing a decision to expel the heads of Oxfam …
JOSE CENDON/AFP/Getty Images

Sexual predators working for international aid agencies in disaster zones are still abusing vulnerable women and girls, a report by British MPs has revealed.

In 2018, Oxfam became embroiled in a scandal involving allegations of sexual assault and rape by its workers in South Sudan, with claims that women were forced to trade sex for aid. The charity’s staff were also accused of sexual exploitation in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. Just last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) faces accusations that its staff had raped women and traded sex for jobs during its 2018 response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The UK report was penned by the international development committee, chaired by Labour MP Sarah Champion who is better known for her outspoken intervention into the rape gangs scandal, when in 2017 she highlighted that the majority of the perpetrators in the group sexual grooming of underaged working-class white girls were Pakistani Muslim.

“For all the warm words and commitments to action the international community has made over the last couple of years, sexual exploitation and abuse is still able to occur with seeming impunity,” the report said, according to The Times.

Ms Champion said that “unless there is a massive culture change within the aid sector, abuse will continue to flourish”, adding: “Our inquiry has found that abuse of beneficiaries is rife, and that the sector has effectively become the last safe haven for perpetrators.”

The report also said that civil society groups were using non-disclosure agreements “to cover up misconduct”, with Ms Champion saying that whistleblowers were “being hounded out of their jobs”. The committee advised the government passing a law, making it possible to prosecute an aid worker who committed a crime overseas.

In a poll of 64 aid workers referenced in the report, three-quarters (73 per cent) said they believe charity workers are still exploiting the vulnerable people they were contracted to help, while 26 per cent said they had actually witnessed NGO workers sexually exploiting victims of disasters.

A February 2018 Times investigation revealed that Oxfam, which had received around £300 million a year in British taxpayers’ money and public donations, had covered up that seven senior members of staff had been implicated in sexual exploitation in Haiti. In 2019, The Guardian reported the Charity Commission’s condemnation for Oxfam’s failure to report allegations that some of those sexually exploited could have been children.

In October, three UN agencies — children’s charity UNICEF, the WHO, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) — launched investigations into allegations their aid workers sexually exploited vulnerable women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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