call to action
Ending sexual abuse and exploitation now.
In March of 2002, I was asked to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of refugees in West Africa. What I discovered astounded and sickened me. Sexual exploitation was widespread and was perpetrated by those who were tasked with helping refugees: aid workers, peacekeepers, and community leaders. Humanitarian workers were trading food and other relief items for sexual favors. Girls who could not afford the required uniforms and shoes to attend school in the camps were sexually exploited by teachers who provided them with these necessities in exchange for sex. Medicine and medical care were also provided in exchange for sex. Sadly, in many instances, parents were so desperate for survival resources for their family, they had their children trading sex for these resources.
These discoveries shocked the international community and resulted in the first major sex scandal in the industry. Immediately the humanitarian aid community began developing standards and other initiatives to address the problem. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) consisting of UN and NGO agencies established a special Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA). I have served on that task force. Comprehensive training and other tools were developed to address this scourge and prevent it.
Despite all of the initiatives and efforts to hold NGOs and UN agencies accountable for sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable populations, there are inherent weaknesses in the system that continue to plague the industry. Recent revelations of sex scandals perpetrated by serial abusers in the aid sector has highlighted these weaknesses. Most notably, there is insufficient independent third party verification that a NGO or UN agency has truly operationalized the highest of standards to prevent and protect vulnerable populations from sexual exploitation and abuse. There are no strong assurances to donors and others concerned about protecting vulnerable populations from this scourge. There is no viable certification process to prove that those working with vulnerable populations have had proper training, that allegations are properly investigated, that prevention and complaint mechanisms are effective and that perpetrators are properly dealt with in all areas of their operations.
I started this organization to combat the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse now. HumanitarianHR is currently the only organization that focuses solely on helping aid and development agencies strengthen their safeguarding practices. We are developing a certification process for organizations to demonstrate that they meet the highest standards in protecting vulnerable populations from sexual exploitation and abuse. HumanitarianHR will also take on the issue of protection of women and girls from being sexually assaulted in refugee camps when they are collecting water or firewood, or performing other necessary survival activities. Victims will also have a voice in bringing perpetrators to light so action can be taken if their organizations fail to follow up on their complaints or if they are afraid to complain. Donors and concerned citizens from around the world demand that vulnerable people are protected from sexual exploitation and abuse. HumanitarianHR will be a force for change. The time has come. I hope you will join us in this important effort to stop abuse now.