The Current

Cutting funds to aid groups accused of sexual misconduct will hurt the vulnerable, says UN official

Aid workers are speaking out about sexual harassment on the job, but many say the industry is still reluctant to face the issue, and can even discourage reporting.

Workers who report abuse often told it could put aid work 'at risk'

A shipment of humanitarian aid at the Turkish town of Reyhanli, headed for Syria, in 2016. In recent months, there have been accusations of sexual misconduct in the international aid community, affecting both workers and vulnerable refugees. (OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

Ready Story Transcript

Donors who withdraw funding from aid agencies embroiled in sexual assault allegations are hurting the people they initially wanted to help, according to a UN official.

"Organizations working in these areas are doing work that is needed by people who have been distressed, displaced, made vulnerable," said Purna Sen, the executive co-ordinator and spokesperson on addressing sexual harassment for UN Women.

Removing funding does indicate the seriousness of sexual assault allegations, she added, but efforts could be better focused on improving conditions for that work to continue.

Megan Nobert alleges she was raped by a fellow aid worker at a refugee camp in 2015. (Submitted by Megan Nobert)

"Cutting off funding for that work to take place is not necessarily going to get us to where we need to go," she said.

The global aid community has been rocked by a number of sexual misconduct allegations this year. In April, well-known Canadian humanitarian worker Peter Dalglish was arrested in Nepal and has been charged with sexually abusing children. Earlier this year allegations emerged against Oxfam workers accused of paying earthquake survivors for sex.

Workers who say not enough is being done about the problem have coined a hashtag derived from the #MeToo movement — #AidToo.

Amy Costello has spent months talking to female aid workers about the range of inappropriate and violent behaviour they have experienced. She is a senior correspondent for Nonprofit Quarterly, an investigative journalism magazine focused on the sector.

She told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that most workers don't report because they don't believe sufficient action would be taken.

Click the audio to hear Amy Costello's discussion with an aid worker who alleges she was attacked in 2015.

Megan Nobert says she was attacked while working with an aid agency in South Sudan in 2015. Amy Costello discusses the case with Anna Maria Tremonti. 1:54

Dyan Mazurana, a Tufts University professor, said that despite the growing international focus — and intolerance — for sexual assault and harassment, aid agencies often don't want their workers reporting abuse.

She told Costello that workers who raised issues are often told "this could close down the whole project, you're putting the whole project at risk if you report."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page.

This segment was produced by Amy Costello and The Current's Liz Hoath.


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