Aid organisations “complicit” on abuse

International aid web

Charities must get to grips in dealing with sexual misconduct, MPs have warned in a damning report

31st July 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

International aid organisations were verging on complicity over sexual abuse within the sector.

MPs have slammed charities for being more concerned about their reputation than protecting the people they support, in a report released to mark six months since the Oxfam scandal was uncovered.

Westminster’s International Development Committee has said the sector must show a commitment to lasting change, and called for more resources to be committed to tackling abuse. MPs also recommended that an independent aid ombudsman be appointed to provide victims with independent guidance and support.

The report states that much more could have been done to tackle the open secret of people in the aid sector committing acts of abuse.

Responses by charities were deemed to have been reactive, patchy and sluggish – and the report concluded that action was only taken once crisis had set in.

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.

Stephen Twigg MP, chair of the committee, said: “Many things have changed in the last six months with the aid sector, Charity Commission and DFID taking steps to respond to the crisis. 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.

“Victims and whistleblowers must not end up feeling penalised for speaking out. Humanitarian organisations and the UN cannot continue a culture of denial when confronted with allegations of SEA. The committee is deeply concerned that previous attempts have amounted to limited action in order to quell media clamour with no lasting impact or redress.”

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

She said: "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. Victims and survivors must be at the heart of our approach and the report's recommendations demand serious attention.”

International development secretary Penny Mordaunt 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."

An international summit on misconduct in the sector is due to be held in October with charities expected to demonstrate progress that has been made by then.

Michelle Russell of the Charity Copmmision, the regulator for England and Wales, said sexual exploitation and abuse have absolutely no place in charity.

“We are pleased that the report makes a number of helpful suggestions to the sector as to how these can be stamped out,” she said. “We take safeguarding extremely seriously. Our role is to hold all charities, including those working in the international aid sector, to account for the way they fulfil their duties in keeping people safe.

“But the charity sector must go further than simply box-ticking against their legal duties or improving processes and policies.”