The Board of Australia’s peak-body for aid and international development NGOs – the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) – has responded to the findings and recommendations of the independent review to improve practice and response of ACFID’s 119 members in the prevention of sexual misconduct.
ACFID’s Board – made up leaders of NGO-members of ACFID – have accepted all 31 recommendations of the report and will agree an implementation plan for its members in early December.
The report found that of the 76 incidents reported by agencies, covering a 3-year period, there were 31 substantiated sexual misconduct cases involving aid workers.
Of the 31 substantiated cases, there were 17 substantiated cases of sexual harassment, 6 cases of sexual abuse and 8 other incidents of sexual misconduct.
Of the 6 sexual abuse cases, 4 were perpetrated by overseas partner organisations or sub-contractors and 2 were not stated.
VIFM were clear that their report covered reported incidents to the review, not overall prevalence.
The statement by ACFID’s Board expressed their apology to the victim/survivors of sexual misconduct:
“…we would like to acknowledge and apologise to the victim/survivors of sexual misconduct who have been harmed – both those we work alongside and those we exist to protect and support.
“We are not able to undo that harm, but as leaders we can act in unity to listen and prevent harm in the future.”
The independent review at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) spent 5 months reviewing ACFID members’ practice and culture through interviews, surveys, focus groups and a field trip to consult with members’ partners and stakeholders.
Commenting on the report Marc Purcell, CEO of ACFID said:
“Any case of sexual misconduct is absolutely unacceptable. Our goal is to always keep people safe from risk and harm. One case is a failure.
“We have opened up the sector to scrutiny and found the need to make changes in the way our members report incidents of sexual misconduct; to better embed gender equity into everything we do; and to put the experiences of victim/survivors at the forefront of reporting, redress and ongoing support.
“We accept all the recommendations and are now working to implement them. We will build upon the existing safeguarding regime for our members such as, our Code of Conduct – which is binding on members – and DFAT’s mandatory reporting on child protection and use the VIFM report as a new basis to drive a higher standard of practice.”
Commenting on recommendations for greater accountability:
“Strengthening the reporting system and improving transparency is extremely important for driving prevention and public confidence. Creating a statutory scheme so charities working internationally can report incidences of sexual misconduct to the ACNC will drive prevention and provide a check on whether the new measures we put in place are working.
“We are pleased that the ACNC has given an indication that they are willing and able to administer this scheme and will work with them to support its creation.
“There are 119 ACFID Member agencies, some of which are DFAT accredited. But there are 4000 Australian registered charities working overseas according to the ACNC.
“We agree with the recommendation that a better way forward is the introduction of a mandatory reporting scheme – which covers not just government funded aid agencies – but all charities working internationally.
“We fully endorse the recommendation that NGOs should report allegations of sexual misconduct to local authorities in nation’s in which they work, unless there are compelling reasons not to in the best interests of the victim/survivor.”
Commenting on recommendations to focus on victim/survivors:
“VIFM has set out a path to improve systems for prevention and response so they are centred on victim/survivors. We fully endorse the victim/survivor first principle and accept recommendations that have been made. ACFID will publicly report our annual progress against the recommendations, starting in June 2019.”
Commenting on recommendations for improving gender equity:
“Sexual misconduct in the aid sector – as it is in the rest of society – is gendered. Improving existing gendered power relations is the work of all of us. For ACFID’s part, we will be unstinting in advocating for gender equity and gender justice, and that it is adopted throughout recruitment, training and taken up by senior leadership.”
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.
1800-RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence support service, can provide support—including information, referrals and counselling—for anyone affected by sexual misconduct.
For further information and interview requests, please contact Tim Watkin on 0401 721 064 or at [email protected].