Most Hu­man­i­tar­ian Work­ers know at least one Per­son who sur­vived Sex­ual Vi­o­lence

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

Two-thirds of hu­man­i­tar­ian work­ers have ex­pe­ri­enced or wit­nessed some form of sex­ual vi­o­lence on the job — but nearly half of them have never re­ported it, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey.

Fully 85% of hu­man­i­tar­ian work­ers said in the sur­vey that they had ei­ther ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual vi­o­lence them­selves, wit­nessed it, or have a col­league who had ex­pe­ri­enced it.

The ‘Re­port the Abuse’ sur­vey is the first of its kind: In­ter­net-based, self-re­ported, and avail­able in 30 lan­guages. The data from the sur­vey are not a com­plete pic­ture of the prob­lem — but in an in­dus­try where vir­tu­ally no sta­tis­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion on the prob­lem oth­er­wise ex­ists, the sur­vey is a ma­jor step for­ward.

“We don’t re­ally have any con­cept of what sex­ual vi­o­lence is be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by hu­man­i­tar­ian work­ers,” said Me­gan Nobert, founder and di­rec­tor of Re­port the Abuse, which re­leased a re­port last Fri­day.

Nobert, a gen­der-based vi­o­lence ex­pert and hu­man rights lawyer, founded the or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2015. Buz­zFeed News spoke to Nobert last year about her ex­pe­ri­ence try­ing to get jus­tice af­ter be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted by a United Na­tions con­tract worker in South Su­dan.

A USAID-sup­ported Aid Worker Se­cu­rity Data­base records only 26 in­ci­dents of sex­ual as­sault against aid work­ers, glob­ally, since 2004. But that data­base is lim­ited to cases of rape or “se­ri­ous sex­ual as­sault” which leaves out a great deal of be­hav­iour ex­perts con­sider sex­ual vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing ha­rass­ment or un­wanted sex­ual com­ments, un­wanted touch­ing, sex­ual abuse, and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion. In other sur­veys of aid worker safety, it’s dif­fi­cult to find any men­tion of sex­ual vi­o­lence at all.

“When statis­tics sug­gest it’s a one off thing ev­ery cou­ple of years, it’s easy to dis­miss the is­sue,” Nobert said. “Hav­ing num­bers does start to show that this is more of a prob­lem be­yond one or two peo­ple say­ing this has hap­pened to them. Ac­knowl­edg­ing there’s a prob­lem changes the land­scape on how we dis­cuss the is­sue.”

A quar­ter of the hu­man­i­tar­i­ans who re­sponded to Nobert’s sur­vey said they had had more than one ex­pe­ri­ence of sex­ual vi­o­lence on the job. More than 55% of re­spon­dents said the per­pe­tra­tor was a col­league. Forty per­cent re­ported that the per­pe­tra­tor was an ex­pa­tri­ate staffer; 25% said the per­pe­tra­tor was a lo­cal com­mu­nity mem­ber; and 17% said the per­pe­tra­tor was a lo­cal hu­man­i­tar­ian worker.

Nearly 40% of those who ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual vi­o­lence on the job re­ported it to their or­ga­ni­za­tions, but only 17% felt the com­plaint was han­dled ap­pro­pri­ately.

That’s one rea­son, Nobert said, that there’s so lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of the scale of the prob­lem. Re­tal­i­a­tion is a com­mon fear — and, in many cases, a re­al­ity — for sur­vivors, she said.

But poorly han­dled re­ports can also add to the trauma of the sur­vivor, mak­ing it that much harder to cope with and heal from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The first per­son you talk to will have an im­pact that the en­tire process will have on your heal­ing, and if that first per­son . . . dis­misses you or re­acts in a man­ner that sug­gests you de­served it or you’re ly­ing or one of the myr­iad aw­ful re­ac­tions you can imag­ine, that will send you down a gar­den path of trauma,” Nobert said. “I know that from personal ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Nobert’s re­port comes on the heels of news out of South Su­dan this week that hu­man­i­tar­ian work­ers were beaten and mul­ti­ple women were raped by South Su­dan forces at an ex­pa­tri­ate com­pound dur­ing fight­ing last month in Juba. The United Na­tions chose not to re­spond to the in­ci­dent, de­spite re­peated emer­gency calls, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ob­tained by the Associated Press. Mean­while, aid work­ers started a pe­ti­tion to bet­ter the se­cu­rity stan­dards where they work.

The re­port also sur­veyed in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions about their sex­ual vi­o­lence poli­cies. Nearly 10% of the or­ga­ni­za­tions in the sur­vey had no pol­icy at all.

Sev­eral of the ma­jor play­ers — in­clud­ing the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sion for Refugees, the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross, and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s Hu­man­i­tar­ian Aid and Civil Pro­tec­tion — use vic­tim-blam­ing lan­guage in their se­cu­rity poli­cies, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

A re­port on Mon­day said the UN failed to re­spond de­spite calls for help from hu­man­i­tar­ian work­ers who were raped and beaten in South Su­dan. Ja­son Patinkin/AP

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