UK committee says aid groups almost ‘complicit’ in sex abuse

An Oxfam shop in London

An Oxfam shop in London

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.

MPs recommended that the sector must focus on empowering those they help, being proactive in encouraging any abuse claims, having a zero tolerance culture on sexual exploitation and screening potential staff to ensure that no known perpetrators of abuse are employed. Those allegations prompted the Committee to launch an inquiry into abuse in the aid sector in February.

"They warned sexual exploitation and abuse is endemic across the global aid sector and said there had been a "collective failure of leadership and engagement from top levels down over many years" to tackle the problem with victims not being put at the heart of solutions, rendering what reforms had been undertaken ineffective". Abuses ranged from unwanted sexual comments to rape.

Caroline Thomson, Oxfam chair of trustees, said the report made for painful reading for anyone associated with the charity.

A cause of "deep concern and alarm" was the ease with which individuals known to be predatory or potentially unsafe were able to move undetected from one aid organization to another, the report added.

The delivery of aid to people and communities in crisis has been subverted by sexual predators, according to the latest report from the International Development Committee, with only superficial action taken to tackle it.

She said: "Until the sector is fully prepared to address the power imbalance, cultures, and behaviours that allow sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment to happen, we will never stamp it out".

"Many things have changed in that time with the aid sector, but one thing has not", said Twigg, saying it was the abject failure of the worldwide aid sector to get to grips with this issue, leaving victims at the mercy of those who seek to use power to abuse others.

"The Committee is right to challenge all of us in the sector to do better - we need to give the same sustained priority to preventing and tackling sexual abuse as we do to saving lives during humanitarian emergencies".

The aid world has come under intense scrutiny since it was revealed that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in Haiti during a relief mission after the country's 2010 natural disaster.

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"We are working with other sector bodies and the Charity Commission on these issues".

Oxfam Chief Executive Mark Goldring announced in May that he would step down at the end of 2018; his deputy resigned in February.

Britain's Aid Minister Penny Mordaunt told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the sector has improved since the scandal broke.

United Kingdom regulator the Charity Commission said: "We are particularly pleased with the Committee's focus on the need for a sector-wide approach to reporting". "We have made improvements since 2011 but recognise we have further to go", she said.

"Oxfam is committed to the safety and dignity of everyone who interacts with us. That's why we have commissioned an independent internal review of our organizational culture".

Following the Haiti scandal earlier this year, Oxfam agreed not to bid for any new government funding until it reforms.

Calling the situation an "endemic", the report details sexual abuse of vulnerable women and girls. The panel also accused the aid sector of "complacency verging on complicity" in the abuse. The devastating knock-on effects of abuse included a loss of education and skills training, reduced employment opportunities and social exclusion, the report said.

Browning said that how sector leaders react now will "govern how confident people feel about coming forward with reports of abuse". In recent months the #MeToo movement had helped shine a light on sexual misconduct, the report said, but the aid sector still had a long way to go to change. "This is a sign that the culture around safeguarding is shifting". They called for more transparency and accountability within the sector and for an independent aid ombudsman to be set up.

The report also said that the sector was "self-deluded" in tackling the problems of abuse and failed to "put victims at the heart of solutions".

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