When the former head of Oxfam, Barbara Stocking, admitted on the BBC earlier in February that aid workers of the charity had engaged in sexual exploitation of underage girls in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, it sent shock waves around the world.
What is more shocking, however, is that the charity knew about what it calls “a culture of impunity” at the highest level of its board leadership but chose to protect the abusers against prosecution. Protecting the reputation of the organization was considered more important than protecting the lives of the vulnerable.
In addition, in most cases these alleged sexual predators got good job references moving from Oxfam to other charities. No one knows how much harm they may have caused to communities, children and women. More stories of abuse are emerging in Oxfam’s African and Asian outposts showing that there is a pattern of abuse, cover-ups and lack of transparency at Oxfam.
According to Andrew MacLeod of the Hear Their Cries advocacy group, as shocking as Oxfam’s revelations are, such sexual exploitation is only the “tip of the iceberg” of pervasive sexual abuse among aid workers in the developing world. According to him, there is a growing realization today that the worst crimes of child abuse and child rape by aid workers make up a substantial percentage of sex abuse accusations against aid workers from many nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations and peacekeeping forces.
U.N. agencies are the worst offenders, based on available statistics. According to an investigation by The Associated Press, between 2004 and 2014 the U.N. reported more than 2,000 cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers.
The United States Institute for Peace, in a 2013 special report titled “Criminalizing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by (U.N.) Peacekeepers,” has chronicled numerous incidents of rape, pedophilia, prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation of children, girls and women by U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Eritrea and Somalia; of prostitution and trafficking in Bosnia and Liberia, and abuse of minors in Sierra Leone.