UK: Charities rapped for failure to tackle sexual abuse

By Muhammad Mussa

LONDON (AA) – Charities have failed to tackle and respond to the sexual abuse problem, which is endemic across the sector, according to a scathing new British parliament report.

The House of Commons International Development Committee report said that charities have shown “complacency verging on complicity” in dealing with issues and concerns regarding exploitation by charity members and that organizations were more concerned with safeguarding their reputation than worrying about the victims.

“Sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers is happening in the aid sector and it has been happening for a long time,” said the report, published on Tuesday.

“The aid sector, collectively, has been aware of sexual exploitation and abuse by its own personnel for years, but the attention that it has given to the problem has not matched the challenge. Repeatedly, reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and/or peacekeepers have emerged, the sector has reacted, but then the focus has faded,” it added.

The report also criticized the UN’s lackluster response to groups accused of abuse, saying it has failed to take on a leadership role in tackling abuse in the aid sector.

“When it comes to investigating sexual exploitation and abuse allegations, the UN’s approach lacks coherence. There is no single body taking an overall interest in the outcomes of investigations or driving them towards resolution, and the victims appear to be too easily forgotten,” the report said.

It added that “we appreciate that there may be advantages to decentralisation, but this does not preclude coordination and consistency. We want to see the UN adopting best practice standards for investigations, which all agencies must follow.”

Stephen Twigg, who chairs the committee, said that the aid sector’s failure to tackle sexual abuse and hold those responsible for such abuses accountable is the ultimate abuse of power.

“I find it hard to escape the conclusion that organizations have put their reputations first,” he said.

The committee began writing the report in the aftermath of the Oxfam scandal, which saw members of the charity sexually abuse women in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Similarly, the UK’s Department for International Development — responsible for administering overseas aid — set up a safeguarding unit in response to Oxfam scandal, and will hold a conference in October where aid groups will be expected to present solutions for tackling abuse and sexual exploitation.