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Oxfam Charity Reeling Under Charges of Sexual Misconduct by Staffers

Oxfam, a confederation of charitable organizations focused on alleviating global poverty, is reeling under reports that staff members in several parts of the world engaged in sexual misconduct, including using underage prostitutes. Allegations of a cover-up has worsened the situation.

Last week, the British newspaper The Times reported that in 2011 Oxfam tried to cover up claims that a guesthouse was used as a “whorehouse” by male aid workers in Haiti, which had been devastated the previous year by an earthquake that killed 220,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless. Some of the sex workers involved were juveniles, between 14 and 16 years old, the Times said.

Oxfam has denied any cover-up and said that the claims of involvement of underage sex workers were investigated internally and turned out to be “not proven.” Six male staff members and the organization’s country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, left as a result of the 2011 investigation. Two years before Van Hauwermeiren joined Oxfam he left the British charity Merlin amid accusations that he had used prostitutes in Liberia in 2004.

The BBC reports:

Various senior aid workers, including the disgraced country director Roland Van Hauwermeiren, allegedly paid local prostitutes for sex.

That men could be exploiting some of the most vulnerable people in the poorest country in the Americas, all the while being paid to advocate for their wellbeing, is a hypocrisy not lost on Josefine [a onetime Oxford employee who made an accusation against Van Hauwermeiren].

The former Oxfam employee, whose name has been changed, worked under Mr Van Hauwermeiren at the time and said there was a culture of abuse, which included sexual harassment, in the Port-au-Prince office.

Josefine is still too scared to talk freely. She said she raised her concerns once and it cost her job. It was enough to put her off from trying again.

“People did try [to speak out], there were some good people who tried. But something bigger should have been done so they didn’t go on to get jobs in other places.”

She is referring to the fact that Mr van Hauwermeiren ended up taking another high-profile position, as the head of mission for Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh. What angers her most though, is that it appears allegations of misconduct about the men had been raised before they even arrived in Haiti.

“If they did that in other countries before coming here, then they’re probably going to continue to do it here,” she says, her frustration and anger undimmed seven years on.

Then she repeated one of the key accusations, one that Oxfam has said was unproven in its investigation into the scandal: that some of the victims were underage. …

Edelson, an ex-security guard at the charity, echoed her allegation about minors.

“I can tell you for sure there were sex parties at the house,” he said in carefully delivered Creole, speaking through a translator.

“Young people would often come to the office, looking for the director and I am sure these people weren’t there for work. Underage girls, maybe 16, 17 years old, used to come to the office and ask for him all the time.”

Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s chief executive, denied the allegations that the charity covered up any information unearthed in internal investigations.

More fuel was added to the controversy Monday when Helen Evans, Oxfam’s head of global safeguarding from 2012 to 2015, said in an interview with Channel Four News that she had been aware of allegations of rape, harassment and other sexual misconduct by aid workers. She wrote on Twitter that “Haiti wasn’t an isolated incident.”

Evans claimed that volunteers as young as 14 working in Oxfam shops had complained of abuse. One case she detailed involved an adult volunteer assaulting a child volunteer. According to The Telegraph, there were 12 allegations of abuse over two years. One of them involved a manager attempting to force a young volunteer to drop charges against an adult male volunteer who allegedly assaulted the person making the complaint.

The Telegraph reports:

In some of the most explosive allegations yet against the charity, Helen Evans accused her bosses of ignoring her evidence and her pleas for more resources, forcing her to quit in despair.

Ms Evans said that staff had been accused of rape and that sexual abuse by shop managers in UK stores against young volunteers was covered up.

Ten per cent of staff in some countries had been sexually assaulted by colleagues or witnessed abuse, she added.

Penny Lawrence, the charity’s deputy chief, resigned Monday night, saying the charity had failed to adequately respond to allegations of abuse. Lan Mercado, Oxfam’s regional director for Asia, told the BBC that she was aware of sexual abuse claims involving staff in Asia before she started as director in 2016 but that the scale was “not comparable” to that in Haiti.

In the wake of the latest revelations, over 1,200 Oxfam contributors canceled their donations on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Below is a video of Evans, Oxfam’s former head of global safeguarding, being interviewed on Channel Four News:

Donald Kaufman
Correspondent
Donald Kaufman began contributing to Truthdig in 2013. He has reported from many locations, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and North Dakota, where he covered the confrontations over the Dakota Access…
Donald Kaufman

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