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ACFID to conduct review into sexual misconduct in foreign aid sector

Review into prevention of sexual misconduct in foreign aid sector begins following Oxfam scandal

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) has commissioned a report to improve the practice and response of ACFID member organisation in the prevention of sexual misconduct.

The review comes following reports of sexual misconduct in the international aid and development sector came to light in the UK in February, with revelations of Oxfam volunteers in Haiti paying earthquake survivors for sex.

ACFID CEO, Marc Purcell, said: “We want to send a clear message that we are listening to the concerns that have been raised following the reports in the UK and we will work to ensure that we are meeting world’s best practice in Australia when it comes to preventing and responding to sexual misconduct.”

A specialised team from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) with experience in sexual assault will be conducting the independent review. They aim to ensure ACFID member organisations are providing a safe and trusted environment for volunteers and put measures in place to prioritise safeguarding.

The team will examine regulation and compliance with ACFID’s Code of Conduct, identify the existing culture of reporting, and study the capability and organisational culture of ACFID members in relation to sexual misconduct.

Speaking on behalf of the VIFM team, Associate Professor David Wells, said that trust in the sector had diminished following assault scandals.

“If this assaultive behaviour is perpetrated by a person in authority, in a position of trust or by a carer then the negative physical, mental health and social outcomes are likely to be compounded,” Wells said.

“Recently, there have been reports from other jurisdictions, concerning acts of sexual assault and inappropriate sexual activity that have allegedly been perpetrated by aid workers; the very people who have been entrusted to assist individuals and communities at times of stress, loss and personal hardships.”

The review will cover sexual misconduct between ACFID members and beneficiaries, delivery partners and staff. The methods for the review will include interviews and focus groups, survey and data from ACFID members, and a critical analysis of accreditation systems.

“Crucially, this independent review goes beyond compliance with standards, policies and procedures and examines organisational culture, capability and practice,” Purcell said. “Under ACFID’s Code of Conduct and through their own practice, our members already subscribe to high standards and are required to have in place a set of policies to protect vulnerable people.

“This review will assess how this translates into practice.”

In partnership with 1800RESPECT, anyone affected by sexual misconduct can access information and counselling in relation to the review’s remit.

The hotline’s Program Director, Nichole McMahon, said: “If you have experienced violence as a result of this issue or know someone who has you can contact 1800RESPECT at any time of day to speak to a trained counsellor.”

An interim report to be published in July will include a review of existing issues. A final report covering the reporting culture, capability of preventing misconduct, and recommendations for improved practice will be published in October.

“All communities need systems and processes to identify and prevent sexual violence. These programs must be readily accessible, professionally supported and delivered without fear of favour,” Wells said.

“Such programs also need to be accessible to aid workers who we acknowledge as also being at risk of sexually inappropriate behaviours.”

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