Charities still ignoring sex abuse of young girls and women by aid workers

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Sexual predators are still working for international aid organisations where they can abuse children, young girls and women from vulnerable communities. 

That is the warning from one of the authors of a scathing report, Sexual Exploitation And Abuse In The Aid Sector, published today by the Commons International Development Committee.

Committee member Pauline Latham MP told Sky News: “It is happening now and the trouble is I believe there are men who are attracted to the aid industry as they are anonymous.”

She said that other organisations are are clamping down on sexually predatory men, but that is not the case in the aid sector. “They can be anonymous, they can go abroad, it’s not a problem they think. And they can get away with it.”

The report comes in the wake of the exposure of abuse in Haiti, first broken by The Times six months ago. But despite assurances from the the UN and charities like Oxfam and Save The Children that they would urgently implement safeguarding measures, little action appears to have been taken.

“They should be vigilant and listening to girls. But if you’re a girl in a country who is getting aid and you think the only reason you are having sex with men is because they deliver aid are you going to be a whistleblower, if you a vulnerable 14/15 year old?

“No, because they think the aid will stop and they desperately need it. So until that changes until there’s a clamp down where the aid agencies are working then it’s not going to stop.”

Committee chairman Stephen Twigg said the abuse remains “endemic” and the sector is “deluded” in its denial of “the horror of sexual exploitation and abuse”.

“Many things have changed in that time with the aid sector, Charity Commission and DfID taking steps to respond to the crisis,” he said.

“One thing has not – the abject failure of the international aid sector to get to grips with this issue, leaving victims at the mercy of those who seek to use power to abuse others. This must be tackled.”

He also accused the international aid sector of being guilty of “complacency verging on complicity”.

The reports says the delivery of aid to people and communities in crisis has been subverted by sexual predators with only superficial action taken to tackle it.

It highlights a lack of barriers making aid an “attractive sector for people wishing to exploit others” and outlines “systematic criminal sexual exploitation”, for example in the form of human trafficking into prostitution as a result.

In a statement Oxfam responded by saying: “Oxfam is committed to the safety and dignity of everyone who interacts with us. We are determined to strengthen women’s rights within Oxfam and in the communities in which we work.

“Since February, as part of our comprehensive action plan, we have tripled funding for safeguarding, established an independent whistleblowing helpline and committed to publish details of safeguarding cases twice a year.”

But it is not only in disaster zones where the abuse is taking place. Charities have been accused of allowing a “toxic culture” to exist in their offices where female staff are sexually abused and any concerns expressed are routinely dismissed without investigation.

Alexia Pepper-Decaires worked for the charity Save The Children and was one of the first people to go public with her experiences.

She said “It’s completely justifiable to draw links between what happens to women in offices in London and what happens to vulnerable women anywhere in the world.

“The #MeToo movement has shown that while abuses are not the same they are similar. They are experienced in similar ways of power.

“It’s predominantly by white older men and this is an experience that has lots of different harmful effects across communities and across individuals.”

Alexia Pepper-Decaires decided to speak out about her experiences at Save the Children  Charities still ignoring sex abuse of young girls and women by aid workers skynews charity abuse save the children 4376261
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Alexia Pepper-Decaires decided to speak out about her experiences at Save the Children

Ms Pepper-Decaires has left the charity and is a campaigner to bring change to the sector. “It was a very tough environment to be in.

“It was very toxic in terms of its bullying culture and we also saw a sexual harassment undercurrent that was the flipside of bullying culture – which we now understand a lot more about. It was a very difficult environment to be honest in.

“It didn’t look like anyone’s rights were being safeguarded – let alone women’s rights. And it was done very much in a covert way which meant it could be covered up.

“And when women started to talk about it even quietly they felt very nervous about drawing to attention either themselves, as the recipient of these unwanted advances, or about the charity themselves being looked at in negatives ways in terms of it’s public perception.

“So it was a strange atmosphere to try and acknowledge. The culture about being clear about wrongdoing was really not there in the background for us to draw on.”



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