June 17, 2019 / 6:32 PM / a month ago

MSF reports sharp rise in sexual abuse and misconduct complaints

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The number of complaints of sexual abuse, harassment and other unacceptable behavior against field workers at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) almost doubled last year, the medical aid organization said on Monday.

MSF, which runs 43,000 field workers around the world, said it hoped the increase from 172 to 356 complaints in 2018 were an indication that increased scrutiny of the aid industry had encouraged more people to come forward.

Revelations last year that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in Haiti during an earthquake relief mission in 2010 snowballed into widespread reports of harassment and abuse in the sector.

Campaigners against abuse in the aid sector said the MSF figures highlighted increased awareness, but that organizations needed to do more to tackle the issues.

“We await recognition that radical transformation is urgently needed to move the whole sector forward into the 21st century and ensure it is fit for purpose,” said Alexia Pepper de Caires of the group NGO Safe Space.

MSF said 36 staff were dismissed as a result of sexual misconduct cases in 2018, up from 20 in 2017. The 2018 data did not include workers in its headquarters, it said.

MSF said the figures were probably still a “significant underestimate” of the true number of incidents and urged staff and patients to report unacceptable behavior.

“Achieving and maintaining a work environment free from abuse and harassment is an on-going endeavor, for which we are all responsible,” it said.

The increase in sexual misconduct cases is well above the average 13 percent rise in sex abuse and harassment last year cases on 2017 in a survey of 22 aid agencies carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in February.

Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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