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International charity sex scandal will lead to coerced abortion

31 July 2018

"Anyone with food, or water, or medical supplies has power." - James Landale, BBC

SPUC calls for the Commons International Development Committee to investigate the deeper and unspoken implications of sexual abuse, in particular forced and coerced abortion.

This follows the committee putting forward a new document published today entitled 'Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the Aid Sector.' The damning document criticises aid organisations for not doing enough to safeguard people receiving aid from abuse. Campaign research officer Margaret Akers said, "The women who have been victimised could also be vulnerable to coerced or forced abortion, given that abortion is promoted by many of the charities involved. There is little or nothing being done to stop these cycles of violence".

Concern for reputation and donations

Six months ago, The Times reported on sexual abuse by senior Oxfam staff in Haiti. In the aftermath of that report, allegations of sexual harassment and assault surfaced in multiple international charities. The report criticised these charities for their "reactive, cyclical response, driven by concern for reputational management" – it seems there was a significant fear for how these allegations would affect their donations.

Commenting on the report to Sky News, Pauline Latham MP said, "the trouble is I believe there are men who are attracted to the aid industry as they are anonymous. They can be anonymous, they can go abroad, it's not a problem they think. And they can get away with it." She went on to further emphasise how vulnerable these victims are: "if you're a girl in a country who is getting aid and you think the only reason you are having sex with men is because they deliver aid are you going to be a whistle-blower, if you a vulnerable 14/15 year old? No, because they think the aid will stop and they desperately need it."

Stephen Twigg, chairman of the committee, said, "One thing has not [changed] - the abject failure of the international aid sector to get to grips with this issue, leaving victims at the mercy of those who seek to use power to abuse others. This must be tackled." He further accused the international aid sector of "complacency verging on complicity".

Abortion: a tool for covering abuse

Following the report, the Department for International Development will no longer give public contracts to aid organisations if they do not satisfy the safeguarding criteria. It will also be pursuing a register of aid workers.

But, this abuse of the vulnerable does not end with sexual abuse. It is illustrative of a cycle of violence and abuse perpetrated by staff and volunteers of many western aid organisation working in the developing world. Consider how one of these victims would be treated if she were to become pregnant from such abuse. She would be incredibly vulnerable to further victimisation by her abuser. Abortion can be an effective tool for covering abuse.

Margaret Akers said, "this report should cause us all to question the way international aid organisations protect women and children. Receiving help puts you in a vulnerable position, and some would seek to abuse that power dynamic. Unfortunately, abortion is often used as yet another tool in this abuse of power and can be used to 'conveniently' cover up sexual abuse. It is my hope that this report is a step in the direction of appropriate support for these vulnerable women and a step away from the violence used to oppress them."

If you are looking to make a charitable donation or a purchase from a charity shop, look up the organisation in the SPUC Charities Bulletin to see what we know about their stance on life issues.

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