Regardless of where it’s done and who does it, there is simply no excuse for sexual harassment. But allegations in the public sector, where credible and substantiated, ought to be particularly damning, because taxpayers are made to foot the bill for the lavish salaries of predatory officials.
Nowhere is this problem worse than at the United Nations, which receives more than $10 billion per year from American taxpayers alone. A recent survey suggesting rampant sexual misconduct at the global bureaucracy underscores the need for the hundreds of nations bankrolling the U.N. to demand accountability. Governments around the world need to put a halt to the U.N.’s mission creep — and all of its other creeps.
An online survey conducted by Deloitte in November asked tens of thousands of U.N. employees and contractors a straightforward question: Have you experienced sexual harassment on the job? More than 30,000 workers responded (roughly a fifth of the total asked), and the answers did not reflect well on the world’s largest global bureaucracy. Deloitte’s data suggests that one-third of workers have experienced inappropriate behavior since 2016, and nearly 39 percent experienced harassment at some point during their U.N. careers.
While jokes and inappropriate stories were the most common forms of harassment, an astounding 10 percent of respondents reported being touched inappropriately. More than 1 percent reported attempted or achieved assault or rape.
These issues are hardly new, given the U.N.’s longstanding problem with criminal sexual allegations. In November 2017, Reuters reported that “thirty-one new cases alleging sexual abuse or exploitation by United Nations personnel” had been filed over the preceding few months. But the new report from Deloitte highlights a larger problem of inclusiveness faced by the United Nations. While U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the need for an inclusive workforce where sexual and ethnic minorities are well-represented, Deloitte’s data shows that homosexual staff reported the highest levels of abuse.
These findings couldn’t come at a worse time for the organization, which was recently faced with accusations that gay refugees in Kenya were denied supplies and shelter by the U.N. refugee agency. Overcrowded, unsanitary conditions in refugee camps are exasperated by rampant sexual discrimination against gay Kenyans relying on the U.N. for survival.
While the agency claims that they are in the process of resettling hundreds of vulnerable refugees to a safer area with a lower risk of repression, Reuters reports that these transfers typically take years. Mbazira Moses, a spokesman for Refugee Flag Kakuma, notes that “it’s three weeks and the situation is not any better here than in Kakuma. People are scared and facing death threats from other LGBT refugees here. Some sleep with knives under their pillows.”
Nor is the U.N.’s abysmal record dealing with sexual threats and crimes limited to internal issues and isolated instances of refugee handling. In the Congo, hundreds of civilians have documented sexual abuse complaints against the U.N. force entrusted to protect them. Fourteen-year-old girls in U.N.-guarded camps should not have to fear being violated by “peacekeepers.” And Congo is hardly the only place that’s been victimized by predators in blue helmets: There have been thousands of complaints worldwide over the last decade alone. The U.N.’s habit of barring host countries from participating in abuse investigations only furthers the perception of a corrupt, unresponsive organization.
Fortunately, the U.N. is finally taking steps in the right direction. Guterres recently spoke to efforts to step up enforcement against sexual crimes and bar offenders from being rehired by the global agency.
The U.S. has also recently stepped up pressure on the U.N. in general, but it has failed to tackle this issue head on. Moves, for instance, to withdraw from the useless Human Rights Council and Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization can push the U.N. toward curtailing wasteful operations, but they do little to stop the underlying predatory culture.
Without more pressure from the U.S. and EU, and without pledges to withhold funding unless the situation improves, the harassment will continue. Taxpayers in the U.S. and around the world cannot continue to be held hostage to the machinations of sexual predators hiding behind the veneer of a once-respectable organization.