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Aid sector must do more to stamp out sexual abuse, says IDC

31 July 2018

The International Development Committee (IDC) has published a report on its full inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the aid sector. Bond provided evidence to the inquiry and updated the committee on the firm action we and our members are taking to improve the sector’s approach to safeguarding.

The inquiry is a crucial shift towards addressing sexual exploitation and abuse across the aid and development sector. Although NGOs, donors and regulators have collectively taken important steps aimed at stamping out sexual exploitation in the sector, the IDC concludes that more needs to be done to ensure that organisations’ failures of culture and policies are not tolerated. 

Analysis of NGOs’ practices and cultures 

The report highlights the extreme power imbalance between those receiving aid and those delivering it.  The IDC says a full response to sexual exploitation and abuse will depend on the implementation of interlinked measures of empowerment, reporting, accountability and screening. 

The inquiry calls for a complete change of mindset, and says that those funding and delivering aid need to work together to actively root out the problem. 

Although NGO policies and procedures have been in place, the report states that these have not been implemented successfully and that new worthwhile initiatives around responding to SEA have been continually underfunded. A key focus going forward is to sustain momentum and ensure that progress will not begin to stagnate. 

The IDC contends that victims and survivors of sexual exploitation should demonstrably be at the centre of all efforts to tackle SEA and should be included in policy-making processes on an ongoing basis. The committee also suggests a victim-centred approach needs to be integrated across all aspects of the sector’s response. 

Recommendations for the sector

The IDC recommends: 

  • Improved reporting of SEA. This is vital to understanding the problem. Donors, in particular DFID, must provide funds to support the implementation of reporting mechanisms, while also ensuring that victims’ extreme vulnerabilities are at the heart of any recommendations that improve reporting mechanisms. This includes the creation of safe spaces, where victims and survivors feel they can talk about abuse. Any whistle-blowing systems must be accessible and protecting those using it.
  • Developing clearer best practice guidelines on how to handle reports of SEA, including on referring potential crimes to relevant authorities. 
  • Creating an international register of aid workers, collectively resourced and independently managed, to act as a barrier to sexual predators seeking to enter the international aid profession. Best practice standards on referencing should be developed – including what information can and cannot be shared between organisations.
  • Sector-wide clarity and agreement on how a positive safeguarding culture can be identified and what the best tools are for embedding this. All aid organisations should commit to regular assessments of culture, based on agreed indicators, and including how organisations handle the sexual harassment and abuse of staff.
  • Information on safeguarding cases should be published in annual reports – aid organisations should report the full number of SEA allegations each year, as well as the number of allegations upheld. 
  • DFID should take responsibility for ensuring safeguarding is a line in budgets for programmes where there are safeguarding risks, and that grants and contracts allow for these costs. 
  • Aid organisations should aim to achieve gender parity on boards, at senior management level, throughout the workforce. 
  • The government must ensure that the Charity Commission is provided with sufficient resources to enable it to meet the demand created by the increase in safeguarding related incident reports.
  • Establishing an independent aid ombudsman and taking tangible steps towards making this a reality.

We need to do more to change

Judith Brodie, interim CEO of Bond, says: “The increased public attention on safeguarding has resulted in more people coming forwards to report allegations and incidents. This is a sign that the culture around safeguarding is shifting towards better reporting, screening and accountability, where beneficiaries and staff have the knowledge and confidence to raise concerns in a safe and supportive environment. We can only deliver zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse with strong leadership and culture change in our organisations and as a sector we are committed to delivering this change. 

“We as NGOs know that ‘business as usual’ is not going to cut it and change has started and is underway. We need to see increased resourcing in safeguarding, particularly for smaller NGOs, more collaboration across organisations, donors and governments, better transparency, unwavering leadership and measures to ensure whistle-blowers and survivors are at the heart of any solutions. This sadly cannot undo previous shortcomings but it will result in a safer and more secure environment for both beneficiaries and staff.”

Find out what Bond and the sector are doing to drive up safeguarding standards across the sector.