According to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire program, citing whistleblower, employees from Médecins Sans Frontières, one of the world’s largest aid groups, offering medical assistance in conflict zones, with 40,000 staff around the world, are said to have used local prostitutes while on a mission in Africa.
When Sputnik reached out to the NGO for comment, MSF stated that it had taken the report seriously and “looked into the claims put to us by the BBC as far as we are able, but the lack of detail provided has made this difficult.”
“We do not tolerate abuse, harassment or exploitation within MSF. We are sorry for any instances where people have been subjected to harassment, abuse or otherwise mistreated and/or felt that it was not adequately dealt with. Based on the information provided, we have been unable to confirm the specific allegations made in the BBC report. We would urge anyone with any concerns to report them via MSF’s confidential whistleblowing mechanisms so that we can take action. We welcome the current scrutiny as this is what enables change in and beyond MSF,” MSF wrote.
The organization has also stated that “underreporting” was a major challenge and has admitted that MSF still had to do more to make those who were subjected to sexual abuse, feel able to speak out via reporting mechanisms.
“We are deeply saddened that in this case the people the BBC has spoken to do not feel able to come forward. While we have reporting mechanisms in place where complaints can be made, we know we need to do more to ensure that they are known, trusted and used by the people who need them. Underreporting is a key challenge as those affected may not come forward for fear of not being believed or being stigmatized. Unfortunately, this is as true in MSF as it is in wider society. “
According to the aid group, some people have been disciplined for misdemeanor:
“We continue to improve our reporting mechanisms so people feel safe to report abuse at MSF, and to ensure that all staff understand the importance of responsible behavior and conduct themselves in a responsible manner. We have sanctioned people for misconduct, including dismissal.”
It Was Implicit That Girls Were There for Sex
Earlier the BBC cited several female workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being blacklisted by aid agencies and claimed that using prostitutes at the charity was a widespread behavior despite the fact that it is strictly banned under MSF’s code of conduct.
"There was an older colleague who actually moved a woman into the compound [where MSF staff was staying]. It was pretty obvious she was a prostitute but he called her his girlfriend and she would spend night after night with him. […] So blatant and widespread. I saw one of my colleagues; he was a much younger guy, go into the toilet with a local prostitute. I knew her to talk to as she also worked in one of the bars. She told me afterwards that they'd had sex and he'd paid her," one of the whistleblowers, who worked with HIV patients in Africa, claimed.
The allegations did not concern doctors or nurses, but were pressed against logistical personnel, with another woman suggesting that it was “implicit” that the girls were there for sex.
"The girls were very young and rumored to be prostitutes. My colleague, who was staying in the same residence for a long time, felt that this was a regular occurrence," another ex-employee said, saying that she had witnessed a senior staffer bring girls to the NGO’s accommodation while working in Kenya.
They Took Advantage of Their Exalted Status as a Western Aid Worker
The employee also alleged that some workers took advantage of young women because they were older and the girls couldn’t challenge them.
"I felt that, with some of the older guys, there was definitely an abuse of power. They'd been there for a long time and took advantage of their exalted status as a Western aid worker. There's definitely a feeling that certain predatory men were seen as too big to fail. You would often see men who were older, middle-aged, partying with much younger local girls. It was sexualized."
Treatment for Ebola in Exchange for Sex
The third woman told the BBC that a fellow colleague had boasted about trading medication to treat Ebola for sex.
"He said, 'Oh, it's so easy to barter medication with these easy girls in Liberia'. He was suggesting lots of the young girls who had lost their parents to the Ebola crisis would do anything sexual in exchange for medication."
The BBC, however, stated that it hadn’t been possible to verify this allegation, and the MSF said that it needed more information before it could launch the probe.
Sexually Harassing Partners at Other NGOs
The BBC said it saw an internal report that showed MSF had been probing allegations of sexual harassment by personnel back in 2016.
The Executive Director of MSF in the UK, Vickie Hawkins described it as “concerning,” adding that the NGO took findings and reports of “abuse and harassment seriously, and we know we still have work to do.”
“We have conducted a thorough review of our files and undertaken informal enquiries, but are unable to find any record or evidence of the claims that have been put to us regarding the London office," Hawkins added.
In February, the aid group revealed it had fired 19 employees after receiving 146 complaints, 40 of which were related to harassment and sex abuse. The revelation came after the charity Oxfam grappled with allegations that its staffers had hired prostitutes while working in Africa and Haiti.