Members of a UN peacekeeping mission engaged in “transactional sex” with more than 225 Haitian women who said they needed it for things like food and medication, suggesting that sexual exploitation remains significantly underreported in such missions, according to a new report.
The draft by the Office of Internal Oversight Services looks at the way UN peacekeeping, which has about 125,000 people in some of the world’s most troubled areas, deals with the persistent problem of sexual abuse and exploitation.
The report, expected to be released this month, says major challenges remain a decade after a groundbreaking UN report first tackled the issue.
Among its findings: About a third of alleged sexual abuse involves minors under 18. Assistance to victims is “severely deficient.” The average investigation by OIOS, which says it prioritises cases involving minors or rape, takes more than a year.
Widespread confusion remains on the ground about consensual sex and exploitation. To help demonstrate that, investigators headed to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
A year ago, the report says, investigators interviewed 231 people in Haiti who said they’d had transactional sexual relationships with UN peacekeepers. “For rural women, hunger, lack of shelter, baby care items, medication and household items were frequently cited as the ‘triggering need,'” the report says. Urban and suburban women received “church shoes,’ cell phones, laptops and perfume, as well as money.
“In cases of non-payment, some women withheld the badges of peacekeepers and threatened to reveal their infidelity via social media,” the report says. “Only seven interviewees knew about the United Nations policy prohibiting sexual exploitation and abuse.” None knew about the mission’s hotline to report it.
Each of those instances of transactional sex, the report says, would be considered prohibited conduct, “thus demonstrating significant underreporting.” It was not clear how many peacekeepers were involved.
For all of last year, the total number of allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against members of all UN peacekeeping missions was 51, down from 66 the year before, according to the secretary-general’s latest annual report on the issue.