Independent Review Begins into Prevention of Sexual Misconduct

24 May, 2018

An independent review has begun aimed at improving the practice and response of member organisations of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) in the prevention of sexual misconduct.

Since reports of sexual misconduct in the international aid and development sector came to light in the UK, ACFID has been working to commission an independent review for its 124 members to better understand the current state of practice and identify areas for improvement. 

A team of highly specialised staff from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM), with expertise in sexual assault, child protection and gender-based violence has been appointed to conduct the independent review.

The aim of the review is to ensure that ACFID’s member organisations:

  • Provide a safe and trusted environment which safeguards all who have contact with the organisation including staff, volunteers, partner organisations and beneficiary communities from sexual misconduct;
  • Set an organisational culture that prioritises safeguarding against sexual misconduct, so that it is safe for those affected to come forward and report incidents and concerns with the assurance they will be handled sensitively and appropriately; and
  • Have robust safeguarding policies, procedures and measures in place that are shared and understood.

The VIFM review team will examine regulation and compliance with ACFID’s Code of Conduct; the culture of reporting issues of sexual misconduct; and the capability and organisational culture of ACFID’s members in relation to sexual misconduct. The review’s remit will cover sexual misconduct between ACFID’s members and beneficiaries, ACFID’s members and delivery partners, and within ACFID’s membership between staff.

The methods of the independent review will include survey and data collection from ACFID’s members; face-to-face interviews and focus groups with ACFID member organisations; and a critical analysis of ACFID and DFAT’s reporting and accreditation systems in relation to sexual misconduct.

The VIFM will provide an 1800 telephone service and email address for confidential reporting into the review.

A partnership with 1800RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence support service, has been established to provide support—including information, referrals and counselling—for anyone affected by sexual misconduct in relation to the review’s remit.

1800RESPECT Program Director, Nicole 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."

The review team will publish an interim report in July followed by a final report and recommendations which will be published in October 2018.

The interim report will include a review of existing standards and outline emerging issues and lessons from other jurisdictions. The final report will cover the reporting culture around sexual misconduct, and the capability and culture in preventing misconduct, as well as recommendations and a roadmap for improved practice.

Both reports will be made publicly available with a formal response from ACFID’s Board.

Commenting on the start of the review – co-funded by ACFID, its members and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – ACFID CEO, Marc Purcell, said:

“ACFID and our members are totally committed to safeguarding the people we seek to help and who we work alongside. 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 will work to ensure that we are meeting world’s best practice in Australia when it comes to preventing and responding to sexual misconduct. ACFID and our members will unceasingly assess how we can improve practice.

“Crucially, this independent review goes beyond compliance with standards, policies and procedures and examines organisational culture, capability and practice. 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 and prevent against sexual misconduct. This review will assess how this translates into practice.”

Commenting on the appointment of the VIFM to undertake the review, Marc Purcell said:

“Our priorities in commissioning this review were two-fold. Firstly, ensuring that those affected by sexual misconduct can report – safely and securely – and reach out for support if required. Secondly, it was appointing a team with extensive experience in advising organisations about the nature and impacts of sexual misconduct and delivering strategies for behavioural and organisational change. VIFM fulfilled both requirements.

“The extensive experience of VIFM’s practitioners in working with victims of sexual misconduct, coupled with a confidential reporting telephone line staffed by forensic practitioners and the partnership with 1800 RESPECT met our requirements. Their in-depth understanding of the issues involved in sexual misconduct, and experience of conducting similar reviews of national organisations across defence, policing and sport, means they are very well-equipped to undertake the review.”

Experts at VIFM have previously undertaken similar reviews with the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Football League in addition to international collaborations with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation.

Speaking on behalf of the VIFM review team, Associate Professor David Wells, said:

“Sexual violence has a significant negative impact on the health of the individual and on the wider community. 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. Further, individuals in this situation are less likely to report the events, less likely to receive an effective intervention and the perpetrators more likely to escape sanctions.

“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.

“All communities need systems and processes to identify and prevent sexual violence. These programs must be readily accessible, professionally supported and delivered without fear or favour. Such programs also need to be accessible to aid workers who we acknowledge as also being at risk of sexually inappropriate behaviours.

Notes to Editors

Contacting the Review Team and Counselling and Support Services

If staff within ACFID’s membership, and within members’ beneficiaries and partners, have been affected by sexual misconduct and have experiences they wish to report into the review confidentially, they can contact the review team at VIFM in office hours on 1800-00-PSEA (1800-00-7732) or contact the review team at [email protected]. Further information regarding privacy is available on the VIFM website,

For confidential support and counselling, ACFID’s members’ staff, partners or beneficiaries, can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or 1800RESPCT is the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence support service and is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

About the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine

The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine is a statutory authority. It operates under the auspices of the Department of Justice, reporting to Parliament through the Attorney-General. It is the Victorian Government’s provider of expert forensic medical services to the justice system. The Institute hosts Australia’s largest concentration of forensic medical and scientific expertise. VIFM provides independent, expert, credible forensic medical and scientific services to the justice system and undertakes teaching, training and research in these fields. VIFM capabilities include:

  • Assessment, expert opinion and provision of evidence with regard to both victims and perpetrators of interpersonal violence including sexual and gender-based violence.
  • The development and delivery of professional training in Australia and overseas (for police; NGOs; doctors and nurses; prosecutors; the judiciary; defence force and sporting organisations) in relation to interpersonal and sexual violence (including in conflict settings), child abuse, torture and human trafficking. 
  • International forensic medical capacity development and disaster response deployment (disaster victim identification; infection control; dead body management).
  • Academic research into public health and safety relating to forensic medicine, forensic science and interpersonal violence and death prevention.

Through its core work the VIFM has an innate awareness of the complexities involved in institutional sexual misconduct and the geo-political and cultural intricacies that are prevalent in the challenging environments in which many of ACFID’s members operate. It also understands the complexities to issues involving institutional sexual abuse and misconduct, particularly in relation to vulnerable persons in conflict and disaster settings.

Review definition of sexual misconduct

For the purposes of this review misconduct will be defined as the failure by a staff member to comply with the law, (including extraterritorial legislation), obligations under their organisational policies and the standards and requirements under ACFID’s Code of Conduct. For the purposes of this review sexual misconduct will include the situations typically referred to by the following characterisations:

1. Sexual exploitation and abuse;

2. Sexual harassment;

3. Child sexual abuse and exploitation; and

4. Prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA).


The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is matching funds raised by ACFID and its members to support the independent review that will help ensure Australian NGOs are leaders in combatting sexual exploitation and abuse in the development and humanitarian sector.

Media Contact:

For further information or interview requests for Marc Purcell or Associate Professor David Wells, please contact Tim Watkin on 0401 721 064 or at [email protected].