The New Humanitarian, a group of independent journalists dedicated to reporting on humanitarian crises, released an exclusive report on allegations by women in the Republic of Congo who say they were raped and forced to have sex with employees of WHO, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and other NGOs who went to the country to ‘help’ with the Ebola outbreak during the period from 2018 to 2020.
In the investigation conducted by The New Humanitarian and the Thompson Reuters Foundation, they interviewed 51 women who claimed to have been raped or sexually abused by international workers and local employees who offered them work in exchange for sex during the first Ebola outbreak in Congo.
Their allegations were corroborated by drivers from WHO and the other agencies involved in the scandal.
The women’s accounts have a common factor: they were offered jobs on the condition that they submit sexually; if they did not accept, they were not hired or were fired. There were nine instances where these individuals directly raped women who refused their advances/proposals.
The investigation found 83 perpetrators, in total of which 50 were members of NGOs who were in the country on a mission to ‘help’ with the Ebola outbreak and who took advantage of their power to abuse the women. The rest of the accused were employees of the health ministry.
Of the 50 foreigners, 21 were identified by the women as being WHO employees. Others were identified as being from UNICEF, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, Alima, etc.
The women sometimes took photos of the individuals or the vehicles in which they were traveling. In the images seen by the investigators, they include the position, logo, or name of the organization to which they belonged.
The drivers of the accused anonymously confirmed that they were looking for women to take to the organization’s offices, hotels or bars.
There were also instances in which they asked for children or young men to abuse or acquire the women for them.
Two of the abused women became pregnant and had children. Others were forced to have abortions.
One woman said that the practice of men demanding sex had become so common that it was the only way to find a job in ‘international aid’ agencies. Some directly called it a “passport to employment.”
“You’d look to see if your name was on the lists they posted outside,” said one 32-year-old woman, who said she became pregnant by a man who identified himself as a WHO doctor. If a woman’s name was on the list, she had to be abused first to get the job; if they refused, they were not given work.
Women claimed they were invited to drink, others were ambushed in offices and hospitals, and some were locked in rooms by men who promised them jobs or threatened to fire them if they did not comply.
Some women were cooks, cleaners, and outreach workers hired on short-term contracts and were paid between $50 and $100 a month, more than double the normal wage in Congo.
Due to the poverty and constant conflicts with guerrillas in the country, some women had to choose between submitting to these abuses or not feeding their children, so many selected the first option, especially since the salary offered by the agencies is twice as much as what they would earn in a regular job.
The WHO and the other organizations involved said it is investigating the allegations, and some of the accused have been removed from their jobs.
As for the local government, Congolese Health Minister Eteni Longondo said he had not received any abuse allegations.
But testimonies received by The New Humanitarian, many women choose not to report it out of shame or fear. In 2018, a director of Oxfam, one of the accused organizations, was found guilty of using the agency’s money to pay women and girls in Haiti in exchange for sex while on a ‘humanitarian aid’ mission in response to the earthquake.