Much like the gradual rollout of allegations against Harvey Weinstein and his Hollywood peers, sexual abuse accusations against aid organizations keep on coming. The scandal that started with Oxfam workers allegedly hiring prostitutes in Haiti has ballooned to include various charities as well as greater scrutiny of the United Nations’ long track record of ignoring sexual abuse in its ranks.
According to former United Nations aid worker Andrew MacLeod, an estimated 60,000 sexual assaults against children have been committed by U.N. officials over the past decade. It’s a shocking number, and certainly, the U.N. has a poor record of ignoring and covering up sexual abuse, as discussed here at Liberty Nation. But is MacLeod’s claim accurate, or just a well-intentioned but erroneous effort to bring greater awareness to a serious issue?
60,000 CHILD ASSAULTS
MacLeod has worked as a senior U.N. aid provider in Rwanda, Pakistan and the Balkans and he is also a legal advisor for the charity Hear Their Cries, which aims to “stop child rape in aid.” He has written at length on the topic of child abuse in the aid sector in the Independent newspaper, as well as his own autobiography in which he cites the U.N.’s refusal to expose child abuse within its ranks as a reason for his leaving the organization. He reportedly submitted a dossier with the figure of 60,000 U.N. assaults to U.K. International Development secretary Priti Patel, perhaps influencing her recent statement that there is, “a culture of denial in the aid sector about the exploitation and sexual abuse that has taken place historically for decades.”
The figure of 60,000 is an estimate, extrapolated from U.N. data. While military peacekeepers are most often accused of sexual abuse, Secretary General Antonio Guterres has stated that the problem is actually greater among civilian staff, leading MacLeod to take the established estimate of 300 peacekeeper offences against children and double it to 600. He then estimates, based on U.K. statistics, that only 10% of incidents are actually reported, therefore, over the decade, calculating that 60,000 is a realistic estimation of U.N. abuse incidents.
MacLeod’s figure is impossible to prove, and another prominent charity has taken issue with it. Code Blue, a campaign that deals exclusively with U.N. sex abuse, has released a statement calling the figure “bogus,” accusing accused MacLeod of seeking “personal glorification and gain.” According to Code Blue:
Mr. MacLeod claims that UN personnel have committed 60,000 rapes in the last decade. That is a fictitious number drawn from thin air and based on feckless extrapolations. Such irresponsible fearmongering discredits all of us engaged in honest, constructive critiques of the UN’s response to its sexual abuse crisis, and it endangers bona fide efforts aimed at reform.
While MacLeod’s calculation of 60,000 assaults may seem unreliable, extrapolation is a common data management method. Code Blue doesn’t appear to comment on the existence of unreported cases, even though it is generally accepted that only a fraction of sexual assaults are reported, even in countries that provide support to the victim. It’s plausible victims reporting abuse in countries receiving aid is even lower.
PEDOPHILE AID WORKERS
MacLeod further alleges that the entire foreign aid sector is highly susceptible to pedophilia, and that successful efforts to minimize child sex abuse in the Western world have caused pedophiles to resort to aid work as a way to operate under the radar. He writes in the Daily Mail:
There is so much opportunity for abuse and so little to stop it that jobs in international aid actively attract sexual predators who benefit from the artificial power the aid industry confers upon them…People like them have never been prosecuted for the sex offences they commit. They expect to behave as they want, with impunity, and they do.
Children, frequently as young as 12 or less, sell their bodies for a few dollars. They give the money to their families and, in many cases, are sent out the next day to do it again. The paedophile predators are able to persuade themselves that the sex is consensual, and that the children are willing. They even tell themselves that this is a fair financial transaction which benefits everyone.
Indeed, a UNICEF consultant who spent 50 years working for children’s charities has just been convicted of raping a 13-year-old.
Prominent children’s charity World Vision has been forced to admit that they were aware some of their volunteers committed indiscretions in Haiti during 2010-2011 in a sex-for-aid scenario, though the age of the victims is unclear. The charity Save the Children has had 176 cases of sexual abuse by staff over the past 3 years but dealt with most of them internally, rather than reporting to the police. An unfortunate case, since the organization has previously investigated the issue of child sexual abuse among aid workers, with a 2008 report quoting a Sudanese boy: “People don’t report it because they are worried that the agency will stop working here, and we need them”
ATTENTION SEEKER OR RIGHTEOUS WHISTLEBLOWER?
Is it realistic to accept Andrew MacLeod’s number of 60,000 child sexual assaults by U.N. staff in the last decade? His methods are hardly precise, but in a sector that has a clear record of hiding these things, the official figures aren’t exactly trustworthy either. 2000 allegations of sexual abuse have been made against the U.N. in the past 12 years, including 300 against children, but it’s likely that many more have gone unreported.
With charities and aid agencies positioned to help the most defenseless among us both at home and abroad, what can be done about the increasing number of accusations of abuse committed by those who are there to help?