Charity Commission issues alert to organisations operating in Ukraine

14 Apr 2022 News

Criminals are using charity as a “cover” for sexual exploitation, abuse or harassment of people fleeing the war in Ukraine, the Charity Commission has warned. 

The Commission issued an alert to the sector yesterday.  Through a collaboration with the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the regulator became aware that criminal groups are operating in and near Ukraine masquerading as charity workers to sexually exploit vulnerable people. 

“Trustees should consider what further steps they could take to ensure they are keeping people safe from harm,” the regulator said. 

It acknowledged that charities operating internationally during a humanitarian crisis will face particular safeguarding challenges. 

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said: “Keeping people safe from harm should be a priority for all charities and this is especially important for organisations working with people currently facing difficult circumstances, and who may be at greater risk of exploitation or abuse, in Ukraine or neighbouring countries.

“We are therefore alerting charities today to be alive to the risk of people who may seek to misuse charities or harm people during this time.”

Guidance for trustees

The regulator said it expects trustees operating in the region to assess sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment risks and regularly review their charity’s safeguarding policies as the situation in Ukraine develops. 

With the risks of criminals exploiting charity work, charities must ensure trustees, staff and volunteers are legally suitable to be in their positions. Hence, vetting checks should be conducted where appropriate. 

The Commission also urged trustees to use the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme which shares misconduct data between employers to screen-check applicants and employees. 

If charities working on the ground in Ukraine are working with other organisations, it is the charity’s duty to ensure that any partner body also has appropriate safeguarding rules in place. 

If a registered charity is working with an unregistered charity or organisation, the Charity Commission will hold the registered charity to account regarding the suitability of the relationship. 

Report serious incidents to the Charity Commission 

Responding quickly to allegations or incidents of sexual exploitation, harassment or abuse is paramount, the Commission said. 

Charities should report to the Charity Commission when a serious incident does occur and should report any potential criminality to the police or local authorities. 

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