AUSTRALIA’S peak body representing aid organisations has apologised after an inquiry unearthed dozens of cases of sexual harassment, abuse and misconduct involving aid workers.
The Australian Council for International Development said the inquiry had substantiated 31 sexual misconduct cases involving aid workers from 20 of its member charities.
“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 ACFID board said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We are not able to undo that harm, but as leaders we can act in unity to listen and prevent harm in the future.”
The ACFID earlier this year asked the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine to carry out the inquiry following claims that aid workers with Oxfam UK hired prostitutes following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
The inquiry found that out of 76 incidents of misconduct reported by Australian aid agencies over a three-year period 31 cases of sexual misconduct cases involved aid workers.
Among those substantiated cases, 17 were sexual harassment, six sexual abuse and eight sexual misconduct.
Four of the sexual abuse cases were perpetrated by overseas partner organisations or sub-contractors.
The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine made 31 recommendations, including a call for a new mandatory reporting scheme for Australian charities undertaking international aid work to help prevent and respond to sexual misconduct.
ACFID chief executive Marc Purcell said all the recommendations had been accepted and moves were under way to implement them.
“We fully endorse the recommendation that non-government organisations should report allegations of sexual misconduct to local authorities in nations in which they work, unless there are compelling reasons not to in the best interests of the victim/survivor,” he said.
In its inquiry report, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine said sexual assault/abuse was the most commonly reported form of sexual misconduct between aid workers and individuals from affected populations.
Sexual harassment which was the most commonly reported form of sexual misconduct between aid workers.
Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Timor-Leste were where most of the misconduct occurred.
“Most incidents of sexual misconduct between aid workers were allegedly perpetrated by head office staff members who were direct employees of their respective aid organisations,” the report said.
“On the other hand, most incidents allegedly perpetrated by aid workers against individuals from affected populations involved national employees of partner organisations.