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July 29, 2013

‘Survival sex’: How NGOs and peacekeepers exploit women in war

By Vibeke Brask Thomsen/Guest Blogger — July 29, 2013

It’s easy to associate rape with the Democratic Republic of Congo, a region torn by conflict since 1996. Dubbed the “rape capital of the world,” the country sees four women raped every five minutes, according to a 2011 study published by the American Journal of Public Health. The consequences of rape—HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancy, genital damage, and even rejection by communities—have ripped women and families apart.

But several women in DRC also suffer from a less recognized form of sexualized violence: “survival sex,” the exchange of sexual favors for food or other necessary goods with everyone from NGO workers to UN peacekeepers to local men who have goods that are otherwise scarce. This is not prostitution. It is neither voluntary nor equal.

“Survival sex is one in which women have no choice, where they believe that the only way they are going to make any money, where they’ll be able to keep their job or get a job, is through engaging in sex or in relationships with individuals,” according to Anneke Van Woudenberg, a DRC expert who is featured in “To Serve With Pride,” a video issued in 2006 by the United Nations Task Force for the Protection of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and Related Personnel. “It is by no means a relationship of equals.”

This kind of violence occurs around the world in warzones and refugee areas in which women are inherently made vulnerable.

Men tasked with providing assistance to refugees from war sometimes end up exploiting them, trading food and other aid for sex. (ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office)

On a recent reporting trip to Jordan, a source told WMC’s Women Under Siege that both local and international NGOs were trading sex with Syrian refugees for aid such as food coupons. A July 24 report on Women in the World quotes a Syrian woman in Lebanon named Maryam, 31, as saying: “One of the men at an NGO told her that if you accept to sleep with me, if we can have sexual relations, every time I have any kind of access to assistance, it will be yours. It will have your name on it.”

Holocaust scholars have also documented cases of survival sex in which women in concentration camps were forced to have sex with guards in order to obtain a bit of bread, or even with the so-called “righteous,” who hid Jewish women in their houses or fields to “protect” them.

When the very people meant to help refugees are exploiting them, alarms should be going off at the international level. But even the UN has historically had its share of peacekeepers involved in the sexual exploitation of incredibly vulnerable populations.


“We were walking home from school when a driver in a UN car pulled over,” a young Congolese girl’s voice says. “The driver told me he loved me. He had pints of milk in the back of his car, which he gave to my friend and me.”

The girl and her friend had sex with the men several times, and both became pregnant. The men eventually abandoned the girls and their families cast them out of their homes. Before long, they were forced to give up school to care for their children.

The story of these girls is told in “To Serve With Pride.” The video documents exploitation and abuse by UN personnel and other humanitarian workers, the people who are supposed to protect vulnerable civilians from sexual abuse and end up becoming the perpetrators of the crimes. [WMC’s Women Under Siege documented more on this subject in our May 2012 report.]

The UN is tasked with the “collective responsibility to uphold the highest standards and protect all those [it] serve[s],” according to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In 2011, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for the continuation and strengthening of efforts to implement the policy of zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse in UN missions. More than 10 years before that, the UN Security Council adopted another resolution calling for a gender perspective that includes the special needs of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations.

But statistics published by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services found that of the 60 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse reported in 2012 throughout UN missions, almost half had occurred in MONUSCO, the UN mission deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Those 25 cases had been perpetrated by personnel affiliated with the UN, the report said.

Sexualized violence in the DRC has been extensively documented, but less in the forefront are the abuses committed by humanitarian personnel—those personnel who have been sent to prevent the abuses from happening in the first place. This is yet another form of rape brought on by conflict and dire poverty.

“To Serve With Pride” tells the chilling account of one woman in a camp: “We have needs in the refugee center, and when we have insufficient relief supplies or other facilities to fulfill these needs, if someone tries to tempt us into exchanging something, then we have to agree.”

“Where there is desperation, buying sex is cheap and easy,” says the narrator of the video.


The reasons these abuses continue are numerous, but three main causes seem to stand out: lack of training, lack of local awareness, and impunity.

Claus Hjorth Madsen, a Danish officer deployed as a UN Blue Helmet in 2010 in South Sudan, told me in May 2013 that prior to his deployment, he took part in cultural awareness classes and gender-sensitive training, which covered sexual exploitation and abuse and included such topics as ways to interact with local women. He was instructed not to socialize with the local population and not to visit sex workers—such behavior, he said they were told, gives the wrong signal to civilians about the role of peacekeepers.

But Madsen said that not all UN national staff receive such training: “It is well known that not all countries have the time, resources, or will to provide gender and cultural training to its personnel.” India and Bangladesh, he said, are among those troop contributors that do not provide the same in-depth training that he received. This disparity between trainings highlights the need for a UN-coordinated mechanism that ensures all personnel are trained in accordance with UN standards.

Experts have also said that local women are not informed of their rights, which leads to “ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, and impunity [as] the main challenges” in stopping sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian personnel, according to the director of a local NGO in the DRC who spoke on condition of anonymity. In May 2013, the director, whose organization focuses on human rights and women’s rights, said that local women were not aware of existing complaint mechanisms in the legal framework and therefore didn’t seek justice after being abused.

The UN’s Protection of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and Related Personnel Task Force also acknowledges the importance of raising awareness among the local population about their rights, including, for example, their entitlement to aid without any requirement for sexual favors.

The NGO director emphasizes that victims should be granted adequate assistance, including awareness of their rights, access to safe abortion clinics, and health advice. He suggests that assistance clinics be created, places where victims can report and get fast responses to cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian and UN workers.

The UN must also take steps to ensure that commanding officers are held accountable for their actions or those of their subordinates. In addition, stronger penalties should be enforced for perpetrators of rape. In a report for Refugees International, “Ending Sexual Exploitation & Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Missions,” Sarah Martin says that under current law, perpetrators who are UN personnel are returned to their home countries, with UN instructions to national governments to prosecute. This absence of a mechanism to ensure prosecution leaves victims with no support or reparation measures.

Unfortunately, many NGOs have no such public or institutional oversight in these cases. And women stuck in the limbo of war and survival will continue to do what they need to in order to feed their children and themselves. As long as no better options exist, women will remain vulnerable in warzones and refugee areas.


Chomsky praises Snowden and condemns US hypocrisy

Typ­i­cally elo­quent Noam Chom­sky, speak­ing this week­end at the Geneva Press Club:

My own opin­ion is that Snow­den should be hon­ored. He was doing what every cit­i­zen ought to do, telling. [Ap­plause] He was telling Amer­i­cans what the gov­ern­ment was doing. That’s what’s sup­posed to hap­pen.

Gov­ern­ments as I men­tioned be­fore al­ways plead se­cu­rity no mat­ter what’s going on. The re­flex­ive de­fense is se­cu­rity. But any­one who’s looked at– first of all, you take a look at what he ex­posed. At least any­thing that’s been pub­lished, it’s not any kind of threat to se­cu­rity, with one ex­cep­tion, the se­cu­rity of the gov­ern­ment from its own pop­u­la­tion. And in fact if you look at any­one who’s spent any time por­ing through de­clas­si­fied records– I have, I’m sure many of you have– you find that over­whelm­ingly the se­cu­rity is the se­cu­rity of the state from its own pop­u­la­tion and that’s why things have to be kept se­cret.

There are some cases where there’s au­then­tic se­cu­rity con­cerns. But they’re pretty lim­ited.

The plea of the US gov­ern­ment in this case for the sur­veil­lance and so on, is that it’s se­cu­rity against ter­ror. But at the very same mo­ment the US pol­icy is de­signed in a way to in­crease ter­ror. The US it­self is car­ry­ing out the most awe­some in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist cam­paign, ever, I sup­pose– the drones and spe­cial forces cam­paign. That’s a major ter­ror­ist cam­paign, all over the world, and it’s also gen­er­at­ing ter­ror­ists. You can read that and hear that from the high­est sources, Gen­eral Mc­Chrys­tal and schol­ars and all, so on.

Of course the drone cam­paign is cre­at­ing po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists, and you can eas­ily un­der­stand why. I mean, if you were walk­ing through the streets of Geneva and you don’t know whether five min­utes from now there’s going to be an ex­plo­sion across the street that’s run a cou­ple thou­sand of miles away and it will blow away some peo­ple and who ever else hap­pens to be around– you’re ter­ror­ized. And you don’t like it. And you may de­cide to react. That’s hap­pen­ing all over the re­gions that are sub­jected to the Obama ter­ror cam­paign.

So you can’t se­ri­ously on the one hand be not only car­ry­ing out mas­sive ter­ror but even  gen­er­at­ing po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists against your­self and claim that we have to have mas­sive sur­veil­lance to pro­tect our­selves against ter­ror. That’s a joke. It should be head­lines.

Then comes the in­ter­est­ing ques­tion of ex­tra­di­tion. The US has just an­nounced again that they’re going to pun­ish any­body who re­fuses to ex­tra­dite Snow­den.

At the same time the US is one of the leaers in re­fus­ing ex­tra­di­tion. Bo­livia is an in­ter­est­ing case. The US has im­posed pres­sure at least… to try to block the Bo­li­vian plane be­cause they want Snow­den ex­tra­dited. For years Bo­livia has been try­ing to ex­tra­dite from the United States the for­mer pres­i­dent who’s al­ready in­dicted in Bo­livia for all sorts of crimes. The US re­fuses to ex­tra­dite him.

In fact it’s hap­pen­ing right in Eu­rope. Italy has been try­ing to ex­tra­dite 22 CIA agents who were in­volved and in fact in­dicted for par­tic­i­pat­ing in a kid­nap­ing in Milan. They kid­naped some­body, sent him off I think to Egypt to be tor­tured.  And agreed later he was innno­cent…

Ex­tra­dite the peo­ple in­volved, the US of course re­fuses. And there’s case after case like this… There are a lot of cases where the U.S. just re­fuses…

In fact one of the most strik­ing cases is Latin Amer­ica, again, not just Bo­livia. One of the world’s lead­ing ter­ror­ists is Luis Posada, who was in­volved in blow­ing up a Cubana air­liner which killed 73 peo­ple and lots of other ter­ror­ist acts. He’s sit­ting hap­pily in… Miami, and his col­league Rolando Bosch also a major ter­ror­ist… is hap­pily there…  Cuba and Venezuela are try­ing to ex­tra­dite them. But you know. Fat chance.

So for the U.S. to be call­ing for oth­ers to ex­tra­dite Snow­den is let’s say a lit­tle ironic. Again, these ought to be head­lines.

100 Million Dollars And 6 Months To Live

“Called both ‘brilliantly funny’ and ‘mentally unbalanced’ by Simpsons
co-creator Matt Groening, television writer-producer Sam Simon, 58, has
become known throughout Hollywood for his philanthropy since leaving the
iconic animated series in 1993 (he retained a highly lucrative
executive producer title). A Stanford grad who grew up in Beverly Hills
and Malibu — and rose in the industry at a young age to become the
showrunner of Taxi at 24 — Simon confesses, ‘I don’t know,’ when it
comes to estimating his charitable donations to date.”*

would you do if you had millions of dollars and six months to live? Cenk
Uygur (@cenkuygur) and Ana Kasparian (@anakasparian) break it down.

*Read more:…

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