Exclusive: Dozens of WFP women staffers 'raped at work'

WFP headquarters in Rome

ROME – Dozens of World Food Progamme women staffers say they have been raped or subject to attempted rape or other sexual assault by senior colleagues or bosses while working at the UN agency, many of them at the poverty-busting organisation’s sun-drenched headquarters in the Eternal City, according to the draft report of an independent external review of workplace culture commissioned by the WFP.

 As many as 28 women, some 3 percent of respondents, said they experienced   "Rape, attempted rape or other sexual assault" while working at WFP, according to the review carried out by Willis Towers Watson released in September.

 “These are serious criminal offenses that go well beyond inappropriate workplace behavior,” the draft report says. “This reflects the depth of reform that needs to occur at WFP and the need to acknowledge a failure to protect the people that are employed by the organisation.”

The shocking result reflects the perception of many WFP staffers that while Executive Director David Beasley took a strong stance on sexual harassment and other abuse after he was appointed, pledging “zero tolerance,” including for instance the suspension pending investigation of the WFP Afghanistan country director Mick Lorentzen, as reported exclusively first by the Italian Insider, the senior management and the ED subsequently are seen to have lapsed into complacency over taking concrete steps to eradicate devious sex predators in the office and other forms of abuse such as mobbing and the sinister intimidation of whistleblowers.

 There was no immediate response from the WFP when asked by the Insider for comment.

 One veteran woman WFP staffer told the Insider: “The result that came out is alarming, heart breaking. But this is what we all know about.”

 “For years and years senior WFP officials have been abusing and sexually harassing women of all walks of life without much trouble, because they work like a very organized mafia group and protect each others’ backs.”

 The report, the first of its kind in 12 years at WFP, was completed soon after the new FAO Director General Qu Dongyu approved the firing of Peruvian alleged sex predator Fernando Servan who had risen to be Director of Human Resources at the FAO under the patronage of Brazilian DG José Graziano da Silva. Despite repeated exclusive exposure of Servan’s activities by the Italian Insider Graziano turned a blind eye for years.

The WTW report goes on to say that “while the numbers of people that have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment at WFP are fewer than for the other forms of abusive behaviour being investigated,  this does not make this any less serious or important. Steps must be taken to protect WFP employees from the unprofessional and at times criminal behaviour of colleagues and leaders and to developa workplace environment in which everyone can feel comfortable that their personal boundaries will be respected without question.”

 The report quoted respondents who took part in the anonymous survey making remarks such as:

 “Requested for several dates, when I refused, my contract has terminated as simple as that, then I moved to another unit on a new contract”

 “Yes, sexual comments, inappropriate touching on daily basis, in particular at HQ”

“ I have seen a male staff abused by a male manager by touching -so called- friendly”.

“ Overt sexual comments”

“ Told men have sexual needs to justify sexual activities against code of conduct”

 “Not me personally, but so many women colleagues have told me what they haveexperienced. Propositions, rape, men masturbating, comments on their physical

 appearance...”

 “Not personally, but I think some colleagues forget that "jokes" are perceived differently depending on culture, personalities, etc.”

“ My director makes jokes about others having sex when they are not present”

 “Member of LG team, senior directors and managers – lots of them are known for sexual harassment. Deputy Executive Director’s wife accused him for infidelity and extra marital affairs with WFP employees in an open email to WFP senior management. But nothing

happened, no actions taken. Same goes for some RDs and CDs. It’s open secret.”

  The New York TImes in a report it published last year on the bungled investigation of a rape of a WFP woman staffer from Ethiopia, said that "on the world stage, the United Nations takes an uncompromising stance on sexual abuse, trumpeting a 'zero tolerance' policy for infractions by its employees and condemning rape laws that require a woman to show injuries to prove that she did not consent."

 "But within the United Nations itself, the system for examining sexual misconduct by employees is so inconsistent that investigators sometimes use those same contentious laws to help guide their inquiries — a clear example, critics say, of the broad gap between the organization’s public pronouncements and its own practices."

 

jp