Should all sex between international personnel and local people in peace operations be prohibited? Why are peacekeepers rarely prosecuted for crimes such as rape? Should humanitarian workers be allowed to pay for sex? Should local laws or international standards determine the age of consent to sex between local people and international personnel in peace operations? My book, Sex in Peace Operations, examines the regulation of sex between international personnel and local people in United Nations peace operations through case studies of Bosnia, West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Over the past two decades there has been a series of scandals implicating UN peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and private military contractors in sexual exploitation and abuse of local people. Perhaps the best known of these are the cases of Cambodia and Somalia in the early 1990s, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2002 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2004. More recently the film The Whistleblower has publicised trafficking in women by private military contractors employed by DynCorp and seconded to the UN as international police monitors and trainers in post-war Bosnia. Although less widely reported, there are also non-exploitative sexual relations between peacekeepers and local people.
The response to sex in peace operations has shifted over the last twenty years from an attitude that ‘boys will be boys’ to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy. The zero tolerance policy, which appears to have been developed as a substitute for an effective legal framework, is itself highly problematic. My book argues that the regulatory focus should be on preventing, and ending impunity for, sexual crimes committed by international personnel against local people, rather than trying to prevent nearly all sex between international personnel and local people, as the zero tolerance policy claims to do. It suggests more responsive approaches to sex in peace operations that aim to promote the sexual autonomy of local people, particularly women and girls.