Sky News has traced two women in the Democratic Republic of Congo who have both been sexually exploited by different aid organisations and are left with babies who they’re now struggling to bring up.
We conducted our investigation after a committee of MPs urged agencies and charity organisations to confront the horror of sexual exploitation in their profession.
Francine Lutete, a young mother in Goma, claimed she’d been stopped by an aid worker in a clearly branded vehicle whilst she was on her way home from school.
She was wearing her school uniform.
At the time, she was just 15.
She told Sky News: “He stopped me and gave me his phone number and said he could help me.
“He told me to go and get changed out of my school uniform and then come and see him.”
The aid worker then promised her he could help her with her school fees and make sure she had enough money to see her through to gaining her school diploma (another five years).
He promised her a new life abroad in his own country – the Philippines.
In a terribly poor country like the DRC, he was offering Francine a tremendous new future.
They had sex four days later.
In many countries, this would be classified as rape of a minor.
But when Francine got pregnant two months later, the liaison ended abruptly.
She said: “The day I told him I was pregnant, he was very surprised.
“He told me not to tell anyone and he would take care of things.
“I never saw him again.”
Now her four-year-old son Mika is known as the “Mzungu” – the white one – in the community.
Francine had to drop out of school and is now just scraping a living along with millions of others.
She tried to locate the man by visiting the charity offices in Goma but was brushed aside and ignored, denounced as just one of many desperate women trying to exploit the charities for money and food.
The parliamentary investigation found that attitude replicated across many organisations and the UN.
The report found “sexual exploitation and abuse is endemic across organisations, countries and institutions”.
The MPs went onto say there had been a collective failure of leadership and engagement from the top levels down over many years.
The aid sector, they concluded, has been aware of sexual exploitation and abuse by its own personnel for years, but it has “collectively failed to fully confront or address the problem”.
Francine and her little boy are the victims of this and no one right now is willing to listen to them, far less act on it.
She and tens of thousands of others like her live in desperately poor conditions in the DRC.
Jobs are scarce and most just scrape an existence from day to day.
Francine has named the man who exploited her on Mika’s birth certificate.
She says she saw his charity identity card.
When we contacted the charity, they insisted they’d no record of him and couldn’t “risk wasting time” tracking him down if his name was misspelt.
It was the typical response which the MPs investigation found was the norm.
Legal issues mean we’re unable to name the worker because the charity insists it has done its “utmost” to try to trace the man and cannot.
Francine is not alone.
We also spoke to Safi, who has a five-year-old boy she said after a long relationship with a UN worker.
She’s even got a picture she says is of the worker.
He gave her food and money in return for sex.
She told us: “I am really suffering. We both are. We are living just by the grace of God.
“She too was ditched as soon as she became pregnant.
“She too went to the man’s work place to try to trace him but got nowhere.”
It’s incredibly hard for women’s claims of rape and sexual abuse to be taken seriously in a country like DRC where rape is used as a weapon of war, where there is high corruption and extreme poverty and where sex is often used to gain small favours just to enable families to survive.
The DRC has the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, its blue helmets are considered vital in protecting millions of Congolese who need aid after decades of unrest and fighting.
There are numerous aid agencies doing important work but the MPs investigation and our own found it’s exactly these conditions which make it fertile ground for abuse by sexual predators.