Sexual abuse doesn’t only happen to ordinary people with ordinary lives, or in TV shows. What’s more appalling is, it happens to helpless women and children in poor countries at the hands of people they trust. In spite of measures to prevent such acts and impose strict disciplinary measures on the wrongdoer, they are still happening, mostly under the radar.
United Nations Photo. Secretary General visits refugee camps in Chad. www.flickr.com. 02 July 2004
In the early 2000s, allegations came out that sexual abuse of women and children in marginalized countries were being committed by the very people who had sworn to protect them – the peacekeepers and NGO workers. These sexual exploitation and abuse acts were brought to light in a survey done by the UNHCR and Save the Children. To some people, it also unearthed the issue of the sex needs of humanitarian workers. Although an Inter-Agency Standing Committee has since been created and six core principles were developed to address the issue, sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) continues.
Recent findings report that prostitution is an open secret in areas in the Philippines badly hit by Supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan). In Leyte province, although officials say these are unconfirmed reports, young women have admitted to resorting to selling their bodies in exchange for money or food. These young women say that their customers are mostly the humanitarian workers because they are the only ones who have money to spare. Although the sex is consensual, it is still exploitative in nature, “survival sex,” as Vibeke Brask Thomsen, guest blogger at Women Under Siege, calls it.
Another blogger, of Korea News this time, noted that post-Yolanda, Filipinos have gotten over their Japanophobia, a result of the Japanese abuses committed during World War II and embraced the Japanese humanitarian workers for whatever help they can give to these typhoon victims. He/she observed that if the Philippines were as rich as South Korea and Malaysia, would it be as willing to extend its friendship? The sad plight of the Korean comfort women and massacre of Malayans are still fresh in the minds of the Koreans and Malaysians.
Currently, the UN Secretary General’s Bulletin on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) has formed four key areas to address SEA from workers of NGOs. These are: engagement with, and support of, local populations; prevention; developing response processes; and management and coordination.
However, as with other activities that deviate from the universally accepted norms, sexual abuse regardless of perpetrator is still under-reported more especially those committed by people who are seen as good Samaritans.