Sexual exploitation is “endemic” in the aid sector, and the Oxfam scandal is just “tip of the iceberg”, MPs have found.
MPs on the International Development select committee warned in a 120-page report that voluntary organisations failed to tackle the problem because they were more concerned for their reputations than for the victims’ interests.
The cases which have been made public are “only the tip of the iceberg”, because of “confirmed under-reporting” by charity workers.
The MPs warned that “individuals known to be predatory and potentially dangerous” were able to move around the aid sector “undetected”.
The International Development Committee said claims of surprise were “not appropriate” after revelations that senior aid workers had used prostitutes in Haiti and then been able to gain employment in other crisis zones.
A six-month investigation found that abuses by aid workers and United Nations peacekeepers are still happening in developing countries, including in warzones and refugee camps where human trafficking and prostitution are common.
MPs warned that underreporting makes the true scale of “endemic” abuse across organisations, countries and institutions impossible to define.
The damning report said the “self-delusion” of the aid sector had prevented it from tackling problems.
It warned that the delivery of aid to crisis zones “has been subverted by sexual predators who exploit weakened systems of governance”.
So much more could have been done to tackle the open secret, it said, that “outrage is appropriate, but surprise is not”.
“In addition to the abuse of aid beneficiaries, there is also evidence of significant numbers of cases of sexual harassment and abuse within aid organisations,” MPs concluded.
“The aid sector, collectively, has been aware of sexual exploitation and abuse by its own personnel for years, but the attention that it has given to the problem has not matched the challenge.”
The committee said a perceived “boys’ club” culture within aid organisations left female employees afraid to challenge harassment by their male colleagues.