“It’s despicable”

This was posted a few hours ago with the associated press:

Save the Children UK said in a report released Tuesday that it has uncovered evidence of widespread sexual abuse of children at the hands of peacekeepers and international aid workers in war zones and disaster areas.
The report said more than half the children interviewed knew of cases of coerced sex and improper sexual touching, and that in many instances children knew of 10 or more such incidents carried out by aid workers or peacekeepers.

In some cases, children as young as 6 years old were abused, the report said.

The study is based on research, confidential interviews and focus groups conducted last year in three places with a substantial international aid presence: southern Sudan, Haiti, and Ivory Coast. The group said it did not produce comprehensive statistics about the scale of abuse but did gather enough information to prove that the problem is severe.

“The report shows sexual abuse has been widely underreported because children are afraid to come forward,” Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children UK, told Associated Press Television News. “A tiny proportion of peacekeepers and aid workers are abusing the children they were sent to protect. It ranges from sex for food to coerced sex. It’s despicable.”

The threat of retaliation and the stigma attached to sex abuse were powerful deterrents to coming forward, the report said.

Ann Buchanan, an Oxford University expert in statistical attempts to quantify rates of child abuse, said the report does not produce comprehensive, statistical data about sexual abuse.

She said the topic is so taboo that it is virtually impossible to come up with reliable numbers, but she said the new report provides a useful starting point.

Sexual abuse is a hugely difficult, sensitive area and it’s not something that you can usually do surveys about because kids feel terrible shame and are afraid to say what’s happened to them,” she said. “Given what we know about underreporting of sex abuse, I would say this report is probably true. They’ve gone about it as sensitively as you can.”

U.N. officials in New York said the study shows the effort to combat sexual abuse is falling short.

Tom Cargill, Africa program manager at London’s Chatham House, said there is no “magic bullet” that can solve the problem quickly.

He said the United Nations is beset by a number of bureaucratic and legal problems when it comes to investigating abuses committed by peacekeepers.

“The governance of U.N. missions has always been a problem because soldiers from individual states are only beholden to those states,” he said…

The felt shame is such a common reaction to abuse, and it is something seemingly nearly incomprehensible to too many people making decisions in legal and  related contexts.

4 thoughts on ““It’s despicable”

  1. I can’t see ‘sex for food’ as anything but ‘coerced’, and I’m surprised that a spokesperson for Save the Children draws a distinction between the two, even while condemning such practices. No sex between an adult and a child can be consensual, so isn’t coercion always present in these cases anyway?

    As if this report wasn’t appalling enough, it makes me wonder what some peacekeepers and international aidworkers do to women in these situations, if this is how they treat children..

  2. Dulcinea, I looked back at the report – which interestingly occurs with different cuts in a number of places – and I think she had in mind something like “purely physical coercion.” E.g., physically attacking, as opposing to withholding food.

  3. Dulcinea,

    Strictly speaking, consent can be invalidated by other factors besides coercion, such as deception or incompetence. It seems to me that sex between adults and children is usually deemed unconsensual because children are not considered competent to consent to sex, not because they’re necessarily coerced.

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