Sex scandals: the shadow of humanitarian work

In the middle of today’s wave of humanitarian sex scandals, I would like to tell some of the stories we, on the CHP Hotline, have heard over the twenty years we supported thousands of humanitarian aid workers who asked us for help.

We’ve heard stories of incredibly brilliant and strong (white) men, working hard to set up complex programs in chaotic environments, who would suddenly break down. Stories of loneliness and alienation, of powerlessness in the face of relentness inhumanity. Stories of failure in spite of high level of competency. Unrecognized feats and abilities.

We’ve also heard stories of fear and terror. Not all the time, it depended on the context – aftermaths of traumatizing incidents, shooting and bombings in long and dark nights. Colleagues who were kidnapped and killed, colleagues who commited suicide.

We’ve heard stories of life threatening encounters of aid workers with rebels and local authorities. Having to navigate in endemic corruption. Witnessing women and children treated like animals.

Stories of going back home where no one is expecting you. Financial uncertainty and not knowing what would be the next move after a last mission.

And, yes, we’ve heard stories of women aid workers who were harassed, sexually abused. Not that many over 20 years of service, but deeply hurt by an experience that shattered their lives, creating wounds that probably would never heal.

And we’ve also heard the stories of men, white men, profoundly destabilized by what they had experienced in the field, who had lost control over their lives, and were badly shaken by having abused women and children.

They had committed the irreparable. Wherever they looked, there was no forgiveness possible.


The author, Claire Colliard, is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Humanitarian Psychology. She has been a trainer and consultant for many aid agencies in the last 20 years and is specialized in humanitarian psychosocial intervention.


The Centre for Humanitarian Psychology has offered online psychological support to humanitarian aid workers since 1998. The Hotline is animated by a team of certified psychologists and Peer Specialists, under the strict rule of confidentiality.





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