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Humanitarian predators: What Joel Davis’ New York arrest tells us

WorldHumanitarian predators: What Joel Davis’ New York arrest tells us

Joel Davis was arrested in New York last week as he made plans to rape  children of a “father” trafficking his eight-year-old daughter and his girlfriend’s toddler. The “father” was an undercover investigator. In on-line chats, Davis bragged about his infant and toddler child pornography collection, saying his preferred child “age-range” was “+0” — newborns and older. Davis also boasted of raping a nine-month-old, a six-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy.

Unfathomably, Joel Davis had been appointed Campaign Director of Stop Rape in Conflict, a global coalition of 5,000 members who, reportedly, unanimously voted in 2017, to restructure under the “leadership” of Youth to End Sexual Violence— Davis’ non-profit. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revoked Youth to End Sexual Violence’s tax-status in 2017, for failure to file for three consecutive years. In addition to not being legal, the “organisation” was an obvious husk—housing little more than insipid blogs largely copied from other publications.

Bewilderingly, the humanitarian community afforded hero-status to Joel Davis—a 22-year-old, two-time college dropout, lacking the education and experience to be the expert, he claimed he was, in the complex subject of sexual violence in conflict . Top humanitarians, such as Zainab Bangura, former United Nations (UN) Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and current Co-Chair of Oxfam’s Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, embraced and championed Davis.


Davis’ criminal complaint reads like thousands of others. His arrest is not unusual either for infant rape or fathers trafficking their own children and children they have access to. Among investigators, father-trafficking is a known “widespread tragedy”. Lesa Gale, Australian Federal Police Child Exploitation Assessment Centre Commander, reports “each day (we) receive imagery depicting infants being sexually abused”.

These are not recent trends. In 2006, Canadian journalist Julian Sher described predators “deliberately going after pre-verbal infants because they are the perfect targets-victims who literally can’t speak up”. The Department of Justice (DOJ) warned, in 2009, rape of babies was escalating. The United Nations (UN), also in 2009, reported more than 80% of child pornography depicted children under 12-years-old with 20% being “babies and children aged under 3”. By 2016, DOJ verified the “sexual exploitation of infants and toddlers”, including newborns was “routine”.

Infants and toddlers are targeted by paedophiles for a strategic reason. Children under four-years-old cannot be witnesses in court. Pre-verbal children cannot easily explain what happened, let alone defend their rights. This makes very young children ideal targets for predators. Young children are trafficked by their parents, most often their fathers, and care-givers.


The humanitarian sector is also being targeted by predators. As a career, it provides ideal cover and easy access to the world’s most disposable children. Paedophiles posing as humanitarians can craft public images as heroes and build powerful networks of like-minded colleagues. Susceptibility of the humanitarian community to predators is well-known, if not well-addressed. Much like the Catholic Church, there is denial that our community is a refuge for abusers.

In April, Peter Dalglish, a Canadian former high-level UN official, was arrested in Nepal on child sex trafficking charges. Humanitarians expressed shock. Dalglish, like Davis, told lies about himself — spinning the hero-narrative of dedicating his life to poor children. Joel Davis’ hero-narrative appears to be a claim he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his non-profit Youth to End Sexual Violence; a non-profit with a revoked tax-status that is little more than an amateur website. There is no public record of a nomination. Nobel nominations are sealed for 50 years. It is the perfect lie.

Paedophiles clad themselves in prizes and prestige for armour and access. Dalglish received as many awards as he could, including the Order of Canada. Davis may have understood he could claim “nomination” for the biggest prize as the first rung on the prestigious career he was building to access disposable children. As deftly as Dalglish infiltrated the humanitarian sector — grooming organisations to hail him as a champion and offer him positions with access to vulnerable children — Davis, a totally unqualified teenager, said he was a “Nobel nominee” and seasoned humanitarians believed him and gave him a highly-visible position with access to the world’s most desperate children—rape and conflict survivors.


Peter Dalglish successfully groomed humanitarians. Joel Davis also easily groomed our sector. Both appear to have been cultivating a targeted community for the purposes of professional cover and easy access to throw-away children. This is a typical formula child predators use to create a secure supply-line of children to rape and torture. Groom. Cover. Access. Repeat.

What is astounding about the Joel Davis case is, apparently, that no one in the Stop Rape in Conflict coalition, which includes prestigious organisation like Peace Laureates of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, AIDS Free World, Global Fund for Women and many others, conducted the most basic verification of Davis and his “non-profit”.

When Peter Dalglish was arrested, I explained not everyone had been groomed. Dalglish would have networked with other predators. The tributes and amply paid UN positions would have been given to him by men like him. Doing the same thing. Paedophiles help each other obtain authoritative professional positions, titles and awards. They use these positions to protect each other and their crimes. This is their criminal defence.

Paedophilia is a highly networked crime. Networking is a defining aspect of the crime. Paedophiles collectively engage in child abuse, share children they have access to, tip each other off on where to locate vulnerable children and protect each other from arrest and prosecution.

If Joel Davis is a typical paedophile, then there are humanitarians who networked with him, possibly in these crimes and in helping him build a humanitarian career. It is plausible that the sexual abuse of children is what provided Davis, a teenager — with no qualifications of any kind — a rocket to the top of the humanitarian world. The other explanation for his meteoric rise, based on no merit, is the humanitarian community is incompetent in basic due diligence and dangerously ignorant of predatory patterns of behavior.

Are we making it easy for predators like Peter Dalglish and Joel Davis to occupy positions of power and prestigious in our profession with access to vulnerable children?

I think we are.


Although humanitarians are discussing the #MeToo movement in the international aid sector, calling it #AidToo, critically lacking has been a discussion of child predators among us. In the wake of the Davis and Dalglish arrests, humanitarian leadership must make space for this discussion and take action to protect our professional communities, and the children we are supposed to be serving and protecting, from being groomed by and accessible to predators.

Dalglish’s arrest should have been a “teachable moment” for humanitarians to recognise how predators exploit the cover of “heroism” to commit crimes. Joel Davis’ arrest should provoke soul-searching and immediate corrective action. Dalglish was not a hero. Davis is not a hero. Both men have been arrested and charged as criminal predators of the worst kind. Why did we make them heroes? Why did we believe their obvious lies?

It is not a matter of “if” there will be another high-profile humanitarian arrest for crimes like Dalglish and Davis stand accused — it is a matter of when. How many more arrests will it take before humanitarians secure our institutions from being manipulated by predators? Every new arrest will cost each organisation involved, further tarnish the image of all humanitarians and provide visible and gruesome evidence of extreme harm done to many children —abuse that has irreversibly damaged countless lives.

Silence is expensive in the post-Weinstein era.

How steep will the humanitarian learning-curve be?

Dr Lori Handrahan has been a humanitarian and an academic for over twenty years and is an expert in sexual violence in conflict. Her book Epidemic: America’s Trade in Child Rape  was just released. She can be reached www.LoriHandrahan.com and @LoriHandrahan2

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