ACFID is appalled by the reports of sexual misconduct in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In any circumstance, such abuse and exploitation is deplorable and utterly unacceptable.
It is with great bravery that the victim/survivors have told their stories and shared deeply traumatic experiences. Sexual abuse of this kind has devasting, ongoing effects on the livelihoods, health, wellbeing, and relationships of those impacted. It is for the aid and humanitarian world to listen and transform those experiences into action to eliminate sexual misconduct in this sector.
We welcome the investigations instigated by UN agencies and international NGOs and will closely monitor their progress and outcomes. Swift action must be taken to ensure that those found to have perpetrated such abuse are held to account. Lessons must be learned and quickly applied.
In places like DRC, the lack of confidence in law enforcement to investigate such allegations means aid and humanitarian agencies have a greater responsibility to protect people with whom they work. They must create confidence in reporting and redress for victims/survivors. This must be central to the investigations that have begun.
Despite the varying contexts in which aid and humanitarian staff work, it is universal structural inequality, especially gender inequality, which is the root cause of discrimination, violence, and exploitation.
This challenge is universal, but in this sector, addressing the gendered power relations that create the circumstance where such abuses take place should be the unyielding work of the sector’s leaders. Cultural change – and constant vigilance to bring about that change – is the only path to confronting the core of this issue.
In Australia, we have a long road ahead, but headway has been made since 2018. We continue to implement the 31 recommendations made by VIFM’s independent review in 2018 and openly report against our progress.
Through higher policy and standards; shared sector learning; and more visible leadership and accountability, ACFID and its members have sought to strengthen sector-wide practice and culture to prevent sexual misconduct.
Together with our members, we are developing better referral pathways for victims/survivors to report cases and seek appropriate medical, legal, and social support. ACFID is supporting several members who are working on a credentialing application to properly support the safe, rapid recruitment and deployment of aid and humanitarian staff. ACFID is assessing the implementation of new standards which we have put in place in our membership and have an independent complaints process under our Code of Conduct so bad practice can be reported.
There is no place for sexual misconduct in this sector and our work will not stop to prevent it.
Overturning gender inequality is an interminable task and COVID-19 has only deepened that challenge. Despite these incidents, our members and the overwhelming number of aid and humanitarian workers, continue to act as positive catalysts for change and critical actors in tackling this injustice.