CSUF student researches sexual exploitation in peacekeeping missions

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Portrait shot of Van Sky, an individual who opposes sexual exploitation and abuse that occurs during peace keeping missions of the United Nations.
Portrait shot of Van Sky, an individual who opposes sexual exploitation and abuse that occurs during peace keeping missions of the United Nations. (Angelina Dequina / Daily Titan)

Twelve children and 65 adults have survived sexual exploitation and abuse on peacekeeping missions in 2018. Of these survivors, 43 have been impregnated, according to the United Nations website.

Angelique Van Sky said the “U.N.’s inability to prevent this problem” is what prompted a year of researching the reasons why the issue persists.

Van Sky, 27, is a political science graduate student at Cal State Fullerton. She received her bachelor’s degree from Cal State San Bernardino and is set to become a professor at Fullerton College next semester. She has also received a tentative offer at CSUF.

Through her research, she learned that there have been thousands of allegations logged against peacekeepers from many troop-contributing countries. Additionally, she found that instances of sexual exploitation and abuse were happening on almost every peacekeeping mission throughout most troop-contributing countries.

She became interested in the issue after reading articles about it and learning how understudied it was.

“What I’ve been finding is there’s a lot of research about why this issue is occurring in the first place and about what the U.N. is doing about it. But there isn’t that much research about why the U.N. hasn’t been able to fix the problem,” Van Sky said.

She discovered that mission heads are tasked with the duty of enforcing standards against sexual exploitation and abuse, and have pushed for the idea of not socializing outside of formal peacekeeping duties.

The prosecution of troops who have allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse lies in the hands of the troop-contributing country, which Van Sky said often results in the troop just being sent home.

She also said the U.N. has tried to integrate gender inclusivity by deploying more women on peacekeeping missions. This, she said, has been shown to reduce the frequency of sexual exploitation and abuse.

However, Van Sky said she would like to see the issue treated as a human rights issue in international law, rather than as a domestic assault issue.

Van Sky said she thinks this can be attributed to an idea in feminist literature called the public/private divide, where the public is considered the state and the private is considered everything that isn’t the state.

“Anything that isn’t perpetrated by the state (such as) discrimination is outside the realm of international human rights law. A lot of the problems that women have like women’s rights issues don’t fall into that public sphere,” Van Sky said.

The U.N. has also issued the Spotlight Initiative, a coalition between the European Union and the U.N. that is designed to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

But Van Sky said the initiative “misses the mark” on addressing any actual resolutions for the elimination of sexual exploitation.

Taking all of these elements into account, Van Sky proposed her own ideas of what could help the U.N. get rid of sexual exploitation and abuse. She said the U.N. should continue to push for more gender inclusivity, include diversity and sensitivity training, and require troop-contributing countries to agree to prosecute their troops adequately.

“I think that there’s such an uneven power dynamic between a peacekeeper and a woman in the local population. It’s impossible for them to have a relationship without it being somewhat exploitative, which is the U.N.’s stance as well,” Van Sky said.

In contrast, Matthew Jarvis, associate professor of political science and chair of the division of politics, administration and justice, said it may be more effective for the U.N. to persuade the governments where the sexual exploitation and abuse allegations come from to address the issue.

“The U.N. is in many ways a paper tiger or a person or thing that appears threatening but is ineffectual,” Jarvis said. “The problem is the U.N. generally has no power to do much. I think it’s a lack of interest on their part but then also a lack of interest in pursuing it because they lack tools to get compliance from their member-state peacekeeping forces.”

When she talks about her subject, Van Sky said it is often the first time people are exposed to the issue. She holds that her work isn’t meant to criticize the U.N. but rather help them find a solution to the problem.

Apart from teaching at Fullerton College, Van Sky plans to present her research at the Western and Midwestern Political Science Association Conferences. She also hopes to get her Ph.D. and make the issue the focus of her dissertation so she can conduct surveys and interviews with people at the U.N.

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