At least 21 WHO workers are implicated in the U.N. health agency’s largest known sex scandal
"Jolianne" was 13 in April 2019 when, she says, a driver for the World Health Organization pulled up to her while she was selling phone cards on the side of the road in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The man offered her a ride home, and the child climbed inside his vehicle.
But, the girl says, instead of dropping her off at home, he stopped at a local hotel, where he raped and impregnated her, according to an internal WHO investigative report on what has become the most expansive reported sex scandal in the organization's history.
And "Jolianne" – the 2021 report, which was reviewed by PEOPLE, refers to the girl by this name – was not the only person who has alleged wrongdoing at the hands of WHO employees who worked in her country to mitigate damage caused by an Ebola epidemic that spanned from 2018 to 2020.
More than 100 women and girls – according to an investigation by the AP – have alleged sexual abuse or exploitation by at least 21 of the organization’s employees in 2019. Some allegations were dismissed at the time, the WHO report notes. The report states that “the majority” of those employees who allegedly abused the girls were Congolese men “hired on a temporary basis,” by the organization while others were international workers deployed to the country.
"To get ahead in the job, you had to have sex," a woman identified in the WHO report as Nadira said, adding sex was suggested to her in turn for "if I wanted to get a basin of water to wash myself in the base camp where we were staying during the retaliation."
Following a multi-year investigation into the accusations, the U.N. health agency offered the women $250 each– if they took a training course, in topics like tailoring and baking, the AP reports.
The WHO confirms to PEOPLE that 104 individuals received the cash payments. In internal documents obtained by the AP, WHO said that amount added up to less than one day in expenses approved for some U.N. officials working in the country's capital.
A dozen men also came forward alleging sexual abuse and exploitation, according to the WHO report, but it was not immediately clear if they were considered eligible for the cash payment.
The $250 does not quite stretch to four months of living expenses in DRC Congo, according to the AP, which totaled the cash payout at $26,000, or about 1 percent of the $2 million in WHO’s “survivor assistance fund” for victims – mostly in DRC Congo – of sexual misconduct.
Some women refused compensation, others were likely hindered from receiving it based on the additional course requirements, and others, like a woman the report refers to as "Audia," told the AP that the money was “really insufficient.”
The alleged abuse broke families apart, according to the WHO report, likely creating additional economic challenges. Some of the women have also become burdened by unexpected expenses atop the trauma.
Twenty-nine women and girls alleging such abuse became pregnant by the WHO workers, according to the WHO report. "Jolianne" was among 22 who carried her pregnancy to term. Others say the men forced them to get abortions.
Last year – a year after the Independent Commission released their report – WHO posted an update on the organization’s progress toward the commission’s recommendations to avoid such abuse in the future.
The update repurposed the term “sexual exploitation and abuse” to refer to the accusations by the acronym “SEA” and used that along with other acronym iterations 20 times in the briefing, which includes a statement by Dr. Gaya Gamhewage who as WHO’s director of Prevention of and Response to Sexual Misconduct spent three days in the country this March in connection to the accusations.
In the 2022 statement, the director noted “initial progress in many areas to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.” She added: “We have a long way to go.”
Gamhewage told the AP in an undated interview in a recent article published as part of a long-term investigation: “Obviously, we haven’t done enough.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the AP in a 2021 interview that four of the accused perpetrators had been fired and another two put on administrative leave. He did not provide names to the outlet.
PEOPLE reached out to the organization, asking about confirmation of any firings or criminal charges filed against any of the organization’s workers, either in DRC Congo or in the person’s country of citizenship or employment. In a statement provided to PEOPLE by a WHO spokesman, the organization said by email that they had "provided to national authorities information concerning 16 alleged perpetrators who were linked to WHO at the time of the response to the 10th Ebola outbreak." He added that WHO is currently "collaborating with two local tribunals in Beni and Butembo, respectively, including on the cases of 13 survivors represented by an NGO retained by WHO to provide legal support to victims and survivors."
The spokesman told PEOPLE that in addition to money, the organization provided the victims with "a full package of services" including medical, mental health, legal and case management support, along with training in income-generating activity in which victims could choose from several classes. The AP investigation revealed that WHO required the victims to take the classes in order to receive the $250 payout.
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.