NGOs responsible for administering aid worldwide have left a trail of sexual exploitation accusations that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the level of media scrutiny that they deserve. Oxfam and the United Nations are the two of the most prominent, well-funded NGOs, and are also the faces of some of the most heinous, seemingly systemic sexual abuse scandals on record.
Yet, while it’s not particularly surprising that much of the Western world is seemingly unaware and/or apathetic towards the idea that certain NGOs may be – wittingly or not – serving as Trojan horses for sexual predators who see war and disaster-torn nations as potential hunting grounds. But, considering the level of recent outrage about the supposed plight of illegal immigrant children attempting to enter a foreign land, the hypocrisy of overlooking or failing to educate oneself about children being sexually exploited in their own country, traded as meat in exchange for essential survival items, is despicable.
Though, in a scenario where the mainstream media prioritized the most important stories, these scandals would be ongoing headline material, we know that is not the world we live in. The Spectator’s Mary Wakefield wondered herself how a generation so proudly professing themselves to be ‘woke’ could in reality be so disconnected from some of the most heinous scandals hiding in plain sight.
‘I’ve been half hopeful that progressive millennials might adopt the aid world fiasco as a cause. No generation in history has been more alive to the problem of privilege and the rights of the vulnerable. So where are the woke? Are they sharing the Oxfam story? Are they making placards? Not as far as I can see,’ Wakefield wrote in her exposé, Why we keep ignoring NGO sex scandals.
She also calls out the apparently self-absorbed but much slobbered #MeToo movement, whose standard of care is apparently confined to women with Twitter accounts. While outlets such as NPR and The Economist have done somewhat obligatory one-off pieces on the scandals as they break, the NGO sexual exploitation problem requires dogged persistence until the institutions themselves face a measure of real justice, and ensure the public and those they profess to help that the scandals will stop.
Because there’s no doubt that the scandals have not stopped. The Oxfam scandal, where national director for the ‘charity’ in Haiti was found to be hiring sex workers of questionable ages. And, this past week the UK Parliament voted to publish the entirety of a 2002 UNHCR/Save the Children report detailing brazen, nauseating sexual exploitation by workers employed by the United Nations. While a summarized version of the report received some attention in 2002, it’s the kind of explosive document for which anything but complete disclosure is inexplicable and unacceptable. Instead, 16 years passed before the entirety of the findings were released, and in that time similar scandals have unfolded.
The report adds gruesome detail to the sordid history of NGOs, and draws into question the extent to which NGO volunteers and employees are vetted, and even whether these organizations should be trsuted to administer disaster aid directly.
Odds are you haven’t heard about the details of this report on your CNN web feed or come across mention of it on your television screen. Ask yourself as you read the details of the report how anybody who calls themselves a journalist could justify not being aware of this story, and if they are, not reporting it.
The thesis of the report is as cut and dry as it gets.
“Agency workers from local and international NGOs as well as UN agencies are among the prime sexual exploiters of refugee children often using the very humanitarian assistance and services intended to benefit refugees as a tool of exploitation.” (Parliament.uk)
For context, this is no isolated incident. The report makes clear that this sexual exploitation persists in many different NGOs across the many nations where they inject themselves.
“There was compelling evidence of a chronic and entrenched pattern of this type of abuse in refugee camps in Guinea and Liberia in particular…The number of allegations documented, however, is a critical indicator of the scale of this problem as altogether 42 agencies and 67 individuals were implicated in this behavior…”
These conclusions alone, damning as they are, don’t do justice to the realities of how young boys and girls are exploited by the wolves in aid worker clothing, who dangle life-preserving resources over the heads of those who have already endured horrific circumstances. In these regions, the average NGO worker is viewed as a powerful individual by nature of their access to resources. And, this power puts them in a prime position for abuse. According to the report, anybody who challenges these powerful individuals, whether it is to shed light on sexual abuse or otherwise, becomes a pariah in a community desperate for aid, even at the cost of young girls’ and boys’ innocence.
‘Adults and children echoed such sentiments throughout the study, “NGO workers have so much power that people treat them as really important people and the community cannot challenge them.” (Refugee leaders Guinea) This power imbalance turns the refugee population from being a social force for the protection of children into a social pressure against the few members of its own community who try and challenge those perceived to be in power.”’
The system emerges is one where young girls become commodities, pressured by their families to bring home the resources they need to survive, whatever it takes. The families understand that this will mean the girl, in most cases, trading her body for the goods they so need.
“The refugee community realises that one of the ways to access such items is to exchange sex. “In this community no one can access CSB (Soya nutrient), without having sex first. They say “a kilo for sex”.
It is one of the saddest realities that can be imagined. Because NGO workers have taken on the role of exploiter, shedding their disguise as aid workers, it is the girl who gets blamed if she doesn’t comply with the commands of predators exploiting to indulge their own deviance.
Another adolescent girl in Liberia said, “These NGO workers they are clever they use the ration as bait to get you to have sex with them.” This has created an environment in which parents blame their daughters for failing to bring food or money into the home and in which people desperate for goods are unable to acquire them through the rightful channels.
The situation is cut and dry: if you don’t put out, you don’t get aid.
“If you do not have a wife or a sister or a daughter to offer the NGO workers, it is hard to have access to aid” (Returnee male Sierra Leone).”
Many workers don’t even try to hide their scumbaggery.
“the assessment team itself witnessed a UN driver leaving a hotel early one morning with two young girls on his arm. The age and refugee status of the girls was undeterminable but the use of vehicles for such purposes does little for the credibility of humanitarian organizations.”
This description is not charity or aid. It is sexual exploitation of the lowest form. It is the most evil the world knows – the willful corruption of children – posing as do-gooding. And it is far from the only example of NGOs engaging in these practices. It has gone on for decades, if not since the beginning of corporate philanthropy, and won’t stop, because those with the power to put the pressure on have chosen not to demand real change.
A few scapegoats get fired, and the organizations proceed with business as usual. It’s akin to the way that the Catholic Church has handled the credible allegations of pedophilia. And, the slaps on the wrist that these organizations hand down only emboldens more predators to join the ranks. After all, most of these exploiting workers get away with their crimes, so what’s to stop more predators from joining up?
You can bet that the future – whether it’s 2022, 2028, sooner or later and beyond – will hold plenty of “shocking” sexual exploitation charges related to NGOs operating in war-torn and disaster-affected nations where anybody with gas, food, clean water, or other aid supplies hold all the power in the immediate world.
But, we can’t profess to be shocked when it happens again. Frankly, we haven’t held the right to be shocked by these charges for quite some time.