Australian Aid Group Apologises for Sexual Misconduct by Its Member Organisations

November 21, 2018 Updated: November 21, 2018

Australia’s peak body for the aid sector, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), sent out a public apology for sexual misconduct committed by its aid workers on Nov. 20.

The apology comes after ACFID commissioned an independent review into sexual misconduct in May 2018. This had been sparked by widespread media reports in February this year about a senior staff of Oxfam UK who had paid survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake for sex. The media coverage put increased public attention on sexual misconduct in the aid sector.

The board of ACFID acknowledged that they cannot undo the damage the abuse had caused to the victims. However, they said they are committed to preventing the abuses from happening again.

“We would like to acknowledge and apologise to the victims/survivors of sexual misconduct who have been harmed—both those we work alongside and those we exist to protect and support,” the board said in a statement, released Nov. 21.

The ACFID has 119 member organisations.

Aid Workers Abused People in Need

Over three months, an independent review (PDF) conducted by the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) found that there were 31 substantiated sexual misconduct cases that involved aid workers as the perpetrators. The 31 cases are out of 76 incidents in total that had been reported by Australian aid agencies under ACFID over a 3-year period.

In 16 of the substantiated cases, the aid workers had sexually abused the very people they were trying to help, while in the 15 remaining cases, the aid workers had perpetrated the abuse against their own colleagues.

Out of the 31 total substantiated cases, 17 were cases of sexual harassment, six were cases of sexual abuse, and eight were other incidents of sexual misconduct, the report said.

The ACFID board has accepted all of the 31 recommendations presented in the report to prevent future sexual misconduct in the aid sector—one of which is to have a compulsory sexual misconduct reporting scheme for all non-profits involved in international work. Another is to make sure that all incidents are reported to local police.

The board has agreed that planning in early December is needed on how to implement the recommendations.

ACFID’s chief executive, Marc Purcell, said that the review was part of efforts to face the failure of the aid sector to guard against such abuses.

“This sector is built on trying to assist people that are living in poverty and suffering injustice,” Purcell told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“Any sort of behaviour where there is an abuse of power, like sexual abuse misconduct against people who are very vulnerable, is absolutely wrong and there is no place for it in this sector.”

Out of the perpetrators, 48 received disciplinary action, which including firing, suspension, and referral to police.

VIFM noted that the review only looked at voluntarily reported cases, and therefore the sexual misconduct may be more widespread. It noted that 20 aid organisations had reported cases, while 66 groups reported zero incidents. A total of 33 groups did not respond at all.

ACFID board members pointed out that the goal is to stamp out sexual misconduct altogether.

“Our goal has always been to reduce cases of sexual misconduct to zero, where one case is one too many,” they said in their statement.

“In striving for that goal, we must ensure our organisations are places where victims/survivors feel safe to report without fear; are empowered to tell their stories; and justice is a cast-iron certainty.”

If you have experienced violence as a result of this issue or know someone who has you can contact 1800RESPECT at any time of day to speak to a trained counsellor.

1800-RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence support service, can provide support—including information, referrals and counselling—for anyone affected by sexual misconduct.

From NTD News

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