The issue of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the humanitarian sector is not new. Reports of SEA by peacekeepers, United Nations (UN) staff and civilian police can be traced back to at least the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia and East Timor in the early-1990s. It has been exposed in most, if not all, peacekeeping, and humanitarian operations since. There is no standard way to collect data on SEA. Only the UN operates different tracking, reporting and assessment systems, but discrepancies in the prevalence reported has arisen because of the different methodologies employed. There have also been frequent changes, sometimes annually, in the categories of SEA used to report incidence making analysis of trends difficult. In addition, non-government organisations (NGOs) often use qualitative data from focus groups and unstructured interviews to determine the nature and scale of SEA, whilst informative about the context of individual cases, this approach is difficult to scale up or employ in a meaningful way. These variables have hampered attempts to develop a consistent way to measure prevalence and estimate the scale of SEA and often led to underreporting and impacts wider understanding of the extent of the problem.
Only one attempt has been made to estimate the global scale of SEA by aid workers and peacekeepers over the past decade. Hear Their Cries has estimated that over the last decade there could be up to 30,000 incidents of SEA perpetrated by peacekeepers and 60,000 by all UN staff. This number has subsequently been challenged for lack of rigour. Hear Their Cries agrees and points out the lack of analysable data is a huge problem that needs rectification. In 2018 the British House of Commons released a damning report on the Aid Sector condemning the sector as ‘complacent verging on complicit’ in abuse and exploitation by aid workers. The report concluded that the scale of abuse is impossible to tell because of the limited data available.
This project seeks to carry out a systematic review to establish the state of the knowledge base and attempt to estimate the global extent of sexual exploitation in the Aid Industry by pooling expertise across the university. In a second phase, the group will conduct a pilot study (proof of concept) using genetics and genetic genealogy to sample children, identified as born of abuse, and analyse their DNA to track the fathers. In turn, this evidence will be used for collective accountability and possible fraternal identification and impact on individual criminal and civil accountability. Finally, we aim to establish a permanent scientifically and ethically robust mechanism to find victims of such abuse, and their children, and obtain justice and rights for those involved.