The delivery of aid to people and communities in crisis has been subverted by sexual predators, according to the latest report from the Commons international development committee, with only superficial action taken to tackle it.
Committee chairman Stephen Twigg has set out how abuse remains “endemic” and the sector “deluded” in its denial of “the horror of sexual exploitation and abuse” (SEA).
He said: “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.
“No matter how insurmountable this looks, solutions must be found. This horror must be confronted.”
The report, Sexual Exploitation And Abuse In The Aid Sector, comes in the wake of the exposure six months ago of abuse in Haiti.
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.
Mr Twigg was fiercely critical of the recent response from aid agencies, which he accused of being driven by concern for reputation management and failing to bring about meaningful change.
“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.
“Victims and whistleblowers must not end up feeling penalised for speaking out.”
The report calls for a zero-tolerance approach, which empowers the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid proactively seeks out any issues and responds robustly, as well as demonstrating “transparency over reputation”.
MPs also want much stronger screening for known sexual predators, including a global register of aid workers who will operate according to expected standards.
Oxfam Trustees chairwoman Caroline Thomson said the committee was right to challenge the sector and she recognised “we have further to go”.