Misery behind the charity: Oxfam 'covered up' sex abuse
Prostitution claims in stricken Haiti just the tip of the iceberg - and the UK government knew about it, says former aid secretary
The UK government knew about a looming sexual abuse scandal within the aid sector involving 300 people, the former international development secretary has claimed as she accused charities of creating a “culture of denial”.
Amid fresh allegations over an alleged prostitution scandal embroiling Oxfam, Priti Patel claimed that instances of sexual abuse were “well documented”, adding that the disclosures were “just the tip of the iceberg”.
She said that although she had raised the matter with the Department for International Development while in office, there had been “no international leadership” on the issue.
This comes two days after Patel called for a criminal investigation into Oxfam, saying the charity’s handling of the controversy had been “absolutely scandalous”.
Speaking to the BBC’s John Pienaar, Patel said: “I knew this was going on … I made this our own agenda, I did my research, this [sex abuse] is well documented. The tragedy is there has been no international leadership on this whatever.“People knew in DFID, I raised this directly with my department at the time ... The UN said last year there were 120 cases involving 300 people – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“There is a culture of denial [of sexual abuse] in the aid sector ... my former department did not raise this with me, I raised it with them.
“There are no databases of these predatory paedophiles that exist and we need them … to stop this disgusting and corrosive culture of the revolving door in aid agencies.”
Patel has previously raised the issue with the UK prime minister and the United Nations.
Her comment came as her successor, Penny Mordaunt, suggested that “predatory” individuals may be targeting disaster charities in order to prey on vulnerable people.Ahead of a showdown with the charity’s leaders on Monday, Mordaunt has warned the charity that it faces having its funding withdrawn if it fails to co-operate over an alleged cover-up of a prostitution scandal.
Describing reports of aid workers using prostitutes while working in disaster-stricken Haiti as a “betrayal”, Mordaunt said the decision not to hand over evidence to the authorities was an “absolute absence of leadership”.
She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “I think it’s shocking and it doesn’t matter how good the safeguarding practices are in an organisation, if that organisation does not have the moral leadership to do the right thing, and where in particular they have evidence of criminal activity to pass that information to the relevant authorities, including prosecuting authorities, that’s an absolute absence of leadership.”
Asked whether Oxfam had failed in its moral leadership, she replied: “Yes, I do.”Amid reports of similar incidents in other charities, Mordaunt said the entire sector needed to address the problem.
It comes as Oxfam faces fresh allegations over former employees using prostitutes while working in Chad.
Just days after the charity was accused of covering up a prostitution scandal in Haiti, it has been alleged that former aid workers posted to the central African country also repeatedly invited women believed to be prostitutes to the house they were staying in.
Roland van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s country director in Haiti who was allowed to resign in 2011 after admitting his involvement, was also head of the charity’s mission to Chad at the time of the alleged controversy.
According to The Observer newspaper, former staff have also alleged that one senior staff member was fired in 2006 due to his behaviour, with one source claiming that aid workers would “invite the women for parties”.
This week Oxfam denied claims it covered up the use of prostitutes by aid workers in Haiti in 2011 and said it publicly announced an investigation into the claims when they surfaced.
It said it could not confirm whether it had any records about a Chad staff member dismissed in 2006, adding that staff in Chad lived under a strict curfew due to security concerns.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that more than 120 workers employed by Britain’s leading charities have been accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone.
According to figures compiled by charities on sexual harassment in Britain and abroad, Oxfam recorded 87 incidents in 2017, Save the Children recorded 31 and Christian Aid two, while the British Red Cross said there had been a “small number of cases” reported.
All four charities receive money from the UK’s Department for International Development.
In a stark warning to Oxfam, Mordaunt made it clear that failure to comply with safeguarding issues would result in the withdrawal of government funding.“I am writing to all UK charities which receive UK aid, insisting that they spell out the steps they are taking to ensure their safeguarding policies are fully in place and work properly, declare all safeguarding concerns they are aware of, and confirm they have referred all concerns they have about specific cases and individuals to the relevant authorities,” she said.
“With regard to Oxfam and any other organisation that has safeguarding issues, we expect them to co-operate fully with such authorities, and we will cease to fund any organisation that does not.
“I am very clear: we will not work with any organisation that does not live up to the high standards on safeguarding and protection that we require.”
The Charity Commission said on Saturday it had written to Oxfam “as a matter of urgency” to request further information and “establish greater clarity”.
The regulator said an Oxfam report on the investigation stated there had been no allegations of abuse of beneficiaries and made no mention of any potential sexual crimes involving minors.“Our approach to this matter would have been different had the full details that have been reported been disclosed to us at the time,” a spokesman said.
Four members of Oxfam’s staff were dismissed and three, including the country director, resigned before the end of the 2011 investigation.
The charity said allegations that underage girls may have been involved were not proven.
The Department for International Development said earlier the allegations raised “serious questions that Oxfam must answer” as it announced a review of its relationship with the charity.
Mordaunt, who has requested talks with Oxfam’s senior management “at the earliest opportunity”, will also meet the Charity Commission this week to discuss the regulation of UK charities overseas.
She said: “My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm.
“In the 21st century it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector.
“The horrific behaviour by some members of Oxfam staff in Haiti in 2011 is an example of a wider issue on which DfID is already taking action, both at home and with the international community via the UN.”
— © The Daily Telegraph