Photo: Tóth Imre


Difficult to investigate sexual offenses in the development aid sector

Employees of non-profit organizations in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been accused of sexually exploiting women during the Ebola crisis. The majority of women know about abuse, despite the fact that the crimes are often difficult to investigate due to stigma and a culture of silence.

In the autumn of 2020 was accused employees of several non-profit organizations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for sexual abuse during the Ebola crisis. The magazine The New Humanitarian together with Thomson Reuters Foundation interviewed one fifty women who testified about the events. 

I the interviewer the women have testified about the attackyou, persuasions and men who promised them jobs. Some have also testified about threats of dismissal if they did not follow orders. Most women had fixed-term jobs such as cooks and cleaning ladies. They earned from 50 to 100 dollars a month, which is more than twice the average salary in the country. Most women have chosen to remain anonymous because they are afraid of reprisals. One of the participants has told that she got a job after having sex with a man who claimed that he worked for the WHO.

- I can not imagine that any employee did not receive an offer, she testified report av The New Humanitarian and Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Difficult to investigate stigmatized crimes

Aid organizations such as Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières have both announced that they will investigate the incidents. The Secretary-General Oliver Schultz from Médecins Sans Frontières has also explained the difficulties of investigating cases because sexual offenses are so shameful. The stigma can hinder the investigation process and increase the risk that the crimes will continue in the future. The WHO has announced that it has launched an international inquiry and encourages the women concerned to contact them. Like Oliver Schulz, they have noticed that the incidents were not reported because the women were afraid of losing their jobs.

- There is a strong stigma and you worry about what the family will say if the truth comes out, said Oliver Schulz in a interview with Omvärlden.

Problematic with culture of silence

There were some external actors who had also reacted to the scandals that took place in DKR. Anders Kompass worked as a UN diplomat in the Central African Republic in 2015. He was behind the revelation that deployed UN soldiers had subjected women and children to sexual abuse in the country, but lost his job after the revelation. Kompass explained that the biggest problem is that no one has sounded the alarm even though many have been aware of what was going on. Since then, the UN has implemented systematic changes aimed at preventing and simplifying reporting of sexual harassment and abuse so that they can stop the culture of silence.

- If people still do not report because they are worried about losing their jobs, because they are watching what happened to me, then the UN has failed. Then you can have as many policies as you like without them making any difference, he said Anders Compass in an interview with The outside world.

Zero tolerance policy since the 2000s

The UN and other non-profit organizations implemented a zero tolerance policy after the scandals in Haiti and the Central African Republic in the early 2000s. Year 2002 Another scandal called "sex-for-food" arose after an internal report was published which revealed that more than 40 international aid organizations were exploiting children in exchange for food in refugee camps in West Africa.

"We should not tolerate such behavior by any of our employees, contractors or partners and refer to agencies' zero tolerance policy," Fadéla Chaib from WHO told The New Humanitarian and Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The allegations of sexual exploitation of children and women against the UN in Central Africa came to light over ten years after the first allegations. The case came to light after boys aged 8-15 testified that they had been sexually abused in exchange for money and food packages. IN SangariThe report from 2014 testified to the boys that they had been subjected to sexual coercion and threats by UN soldiers. The report received a lot of criticism because the children were not taken care of after they gave their testimonies. The children had been allowed to sit in long meetings with social workers and the testimonies also lacked safety and medical assessments. One year after the allegations, Unicef ​​has testified that it has followed up and visited the children and their families once a week, but a director of an orphanage claimed that was not true. 

The New Humanitarian carried out the report in the DRC, many non-profit organizations claimed that they had not received any or only a few reports but that they would investigate the accusations and support the victims.

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