By Wolfmann [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

July 31, 2018; Devex

A scathing report about sexual abuse in the humanitarian aid sector was released yesterday by the International Development Committee of the UK Parliament. The report charged the sector with “collective failure of leadership” and “self-delusion” in responding to sexual abuse and harassment charges.

The report was the product of a six-month investigation that followed allegations of inadequate response at Oxfam GB and Save the Children.

“The aid sector 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. The reactive, patchy, and sluggish response of the sector has created an impression of complacency verging on complicity and more concern for reputations than victims,” a press release launching the report stated.

International development secretary Penny Mordaunt said in a statement, “Until the sector is fully prepared to address the power imbalance, cultures, and behaviors that allow sexual abuse, exploitation, and harassment to happen, we will never stamp it out.”

The question of culture figured prominently in the report: “We are horrified at reports of ‘a culture of denial’ in UN and humanitarian organizations when confronted with allegations of SEA. Safeguarding policies and procedures will be utterly meaningless without a transformation of organizational culture.”

Oxfam GB and Save the Children are both doing reviews of their workplace cultures, and the report suggests that such reviews become the standard across the sector, and that workforce gender parity become a priority.

“I believe deep cultural change is required across all aid organizations, starting with their—all too often male—senior leadership. Sexual abuse of aid beneficiaries, and of women aid workers, which I believe is linked, must be stamped out,” said Pauline Latham from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), a funding agency. DFID is taking a lead on guiding the sector’s response, having hosted a UK-focused safeguarding summit this past spring that produced an action plan from leading NGOs. They also established a new safeguarding unit and surveyed 283 aid organizations receiving DFID funding to request information about their policies and histories with such cases.

According to a spokesperson, DFID will also host an International Safeguarding Conference in October “to agree a package to deliver lasting change.” The report, however, describes DFID’s response to date as “disappointing.”

NPQ will do a more thorough review of the report in coming days.—Ruth McCambridge