Australian NGOs announce independent review into sexual misconduct

The flag of Australia. Photo by: Orin Zebest / CC BY-SA

CANBERRA – The Australian Council for International Development has announced a new review into the prevention of sexual misconduct within its member organizations.

The review, co-financed by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for an undisclosed amount, will begin from May 24 and investigate within ACFID’s 124 member organizations on practices that may lead to culture of sexual harassment and fear of reporting.

The review is a response to the Oxfam Great Britain sexual misconduct scandal earlier this year, which has seen development professionals globally look toward their own internal practices.

Australia’s review, to be conducted by experts in sexual assault, child protection, and gender-based violence at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, will consider the social norms amongst development organizations. They will ask a range of questions related to policies and regulations, culture and practice, social norms and attitudes, and awareness of systems and resources.

Marc Purcell, chief executive officer of ACFID, explained to media that the review aims to ensure those affected by sexual misconduct can feel confident in reporting incidents safely and securely. And support will be provided to them.

“We want to send a clear message that we are listening to the concerns that have been raised following the reports in the U.K. and will work to ensure that we are meeting world’s best practice in Australia when it comes to preventing and responding to sexual misconduct,” he said.

The review will focus on 10 key areas for analysis:

1. The adequacy of the current regulatory and compliance systems.
2. Evidence of implementation and compliance with the current regulatory framework of ACFID members.
3. Data and reporting collected by members related to sexual misconduct to provide insight into how they are being, or not being, addressed by agencies.
4. How regulation is being translated into culture and practice.
5. Resourcing and capability to respond to sexual misconduct.
6. Cultures of reporting from the perspective of individuals and organizations.
7. Perceptions that may impact reporting of sexual misconduct.
8. The interaction between ACFID’s members and partners, federations and other organizations in this context.
9. Limitations in managing and reporting issues of sexual misconduct.
10. Best practice on mitigating and responding to sexual harassment.

In conducting its analysis, VIFM will be requesting a range of information from ACFID member organizations, including data. Under the terms of the review, member organizations are expected to comply.

Outcomes are expected to lead to a roadmap for the sector, with recommendations for better systems and processes, leadership and culture, tools and guidance — and how to create an continually improving and safe environment for anyone engaging with ACFID member organizations.

But there are limitations to the investigation. The majority of the review will be conducted by VIFM within Australia, consisting of qualitative interviews, analysis of submissions, surveys and workshops with one regional field trip to speak with country office staff. This may lead to gaps in practices of Australian NGOs within developing countries.

Despite DFAT being a funding partner, only their accreditation systems for NGOs will be looked at, and not culture within the Australian aid program as a whole. And there are limits in private sector partners that facilitate the delivery of international development, with only those engaging with ACFID members potentially touched upon in the review.

ACFID is not expecting that the review will be able to conduct an in-depth analysis of culture among all 124 organizations — rather overarching culture within the sector as a whole.

Initial insights from the review will be expected in July, with a final report and recommendations to be published in October. While this review is focused on Australia, there will be lessons for international counterparts. The interim and final report and ACFID’s response will be publicly available.

Contributing to the review

ACFIDs members, partner organizations, and others who have been affected by sexual misconduct associated with the activities of ACFID member organizations, are encouraged to report into the review — with confidentiality assured. The VIFM review team can be contacted within Australia during office hours on 1800-00-PSEA or by email at

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.