After being drugged and sexually assaulted by a fellow aid worker, Megan Nobert found the strength to challenge the system.
While on a mission for a humanitarian organisation in South Sudan, Megan Nobert was drugged and sexually assaulted by a fellow humanitarian.
Given a cocktail of drugs, she blacked out, waking up hours later, naked, alone and violently ill.
Here she describes how her experience pushed her to stand up to sexual violence against humanitarian workers, and break down the shame and silence surrounding the issue.
On 7 February 2015, my life changed. It was that night that I was drugged and raped by a fellow humanitarian, a colleague who worked as a contractor for UNICEF, while working in a camp in Bentiu, South Sudan.
The events that followed were traumatising and, in many ways, deeply damaging. The reactions of the NGO that employed me at the time were unsettling, dismissive, and callous, driving me at one point to dark suicidal thoughts.
But that was not the real life-changing aspect of that night. Rather, it was in the weeks and months that followed, where I found an internal strength that I had never thought possible.
It was in finding my voice, standing up tall, and saying that what happened to me was unacceptable that my career and path shifted.
When I went public about my experience with sexual violence, roughly six months after it occurred, I was inundated with messages from other survivors.
It created a movement that began with the founding of my own NGO, Report the Abuse, which started conversations about sexual violence in the humanitarian community in absolutely every corner of our world.
From the top levels of the United Nations to the most remote field site, aid workers began reaching out, asking questions, and demanding change.
Although we are still in the beginning stages of that change and more is to come, the way humanitarian organisations have reacted in the last three years has been encouraging.
Survivors are speaking up when incidents occur, investigations are starting to happen, and perpetrators are starting to be held to account.
Policies are being strengthened and training rolled out around the globe.
Increasingly less tentative steps are being taken to make humanitarian workplaces safer.
It is worth saying that the majority of aid workers are incredible people working under difficult circumstances around the world.
The cracking open of the silence and shame around this specific issue has resulted in humanitarian organisations reaching out and asking for help.
There is a vulnerability that is allowing for growth, one that is and will continue to lead to more positivity in the sector.
The current revelations around Oxfam follow a similar vein.
The issue of sexual exploitation and abuse has been quietly dealt with by humanitarian organisations for a long time.
With the issue now becoming very public, we need to see this as an opportunity to have another vulnerable and honest conversation.
There is still more work to be done. The past few years has brought the creation of best practices and lessons learned.
Organisations are speaking to one another more openly than ever. William Swing has publicly stepped out about his own failures to address sexual exploitation and abuse, allowing others to follow suit.
There is considerable room for improvement, but we are setting ourselves on the right path.
Let’s see this as another life-changing moment: taking a damaging situation and shifting it to an opportunity for something positive.
To be frank, we owe nothing less to the vulnerable populations we serve, the aid workers giving their lives to this field, and those funding our work.
It is time to have an honest and troubling conversation about our failures as humanitarians, and step forward to doing better.
Megan Nobert is a Canadian legal professional and academic specialised in international criminal law and human rights. She is also a humanitarian, having worked in in the Gaza Strip, Jordan and South Sudan on issues of humanitarian law, protection, and gender-based violence. Megan is also the Founder and former Director of Report the Abuse, the first and only global NGO to work solely on the issue of sexual violence against humanitarian aid workers.