Oxfam among charities reeling as 120 workers accused of sexual abuse in last year alone

By James Gillespie, Caroline Wheeler, Iram Ramzan And Richard Kerbaj
Sunday Times
February 11, 2018

Oxfam reported 87 incidents last year; 53 were referred to police or other authorities

Minister threatens to withdraw aid funding

More than 120 workers for Britain’s leading charities were accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone, fuelling fears that paedophiles are targeting overseas aid organisations.

As new figures emerged revealing the extent of the crisis, Priti Patel, the former international development secretary, warned “predatory paedophiles” had been allowed to exploit the aid sector.

Last night her successor, Penny Mordaunt, threatened to withdraw funding from Oxfam and “any other organisation that has safeguarding issues”. She condemned the “horrific behaviour” of some Oxfam staff and said it was “utterly despicable” that allegations of abuse persisted in the aid sector.

Mordaunt expected charities to “co-operate fully with . . . authorities, and we will cease to fund any organisation that does not”.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, Mordaunt said Oxfam had demonstrated an “absolute absence in leadership”.

“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 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,” she said.

When pressed as to whether she felt the charity had failed in its moral leadership, Mordaunt said “yes, I do”.

Mordaunt plans to meet Oxfam tomorrow to discuss the scandal and afford the charity “the opportunity to tell me in person what they did after these events”.

Figures collated by charities cover sexual harassment in Britain and abroad. They raise troubling questions about regulation within the charity sector.

Oxfam recorded 87 incidents last year, Save the Children 31 — 10 of which were referred to the police and civil authorities — and Christian Aid two. The British Red Cross admitted there had been a “small number of cases of harassment reported in the UK”, believed to be up to five. All four receive money from the Department for International Development.

Of the Oxfam cases, 53 were referred to the police or other statutory authorities. A total of 20 staff or volunteers were dismissed. The charity employs 5,000 staff and has a further 23,000 volunteers.

Caroline Thomson, Oxfam’s chairwoman of trustees in the UK, said it was working to “address the underlying cultural issues that allowed this behaviour to happen”.

“We also want to satisfy ourselves that we do now have a culture of openness and transparency and that we fully learn the lessons of events in 2011,” she said.

She said Oxfam staff had come forward with concerns about the recruitment and vetting of workers involved in the scandal.

She added: “We will examine these in more detail to ensure we further strengthen the improved safeguarding, recruitment, vetting and staff management procedures that were put in place after 2011.”

Incidents involving charity workers that have come to light since The Times revealed Oxfam workers in Haiti in 2011 were dismissed after using local prostitutes for sex parties include:

● The Charities Commission criticised the Grail Trust, which raises funds for a disadvantaged children’s charity in India, last March for failing to report an allegation of child abuse in India and for initially publicly rejecting the claim.

● Teacher Simon Harris, who was head of a charity in Kenya, abused children at a school there. He was jailed for more than 17 years at Birmingham crown court in 2015.

Andrew MacLeod, a former aid worker for the Red Cross and the UN, told The Sunday Times there was a lack of response to “institutionalised paedophilia” among aid workers. He said he was shocked by what he saw in the Philippines.

“Walk near the Greenbelt Mall [in Manila] and you would see businessmen, tourists and aid workers meeting local girls for the night. You would say: ‘How old do you think these women are?’ They’d look at you with a twinkle in their eye and say: ‘She says she is 18.’

“Many aid workers will have to ask themselves: ‘What did I do to try and stop it?’”

It is not clear from last year’s figures how many allegations were made by other staff or whether the alleged victims were beneficiaries of the charities’ work.

Save the Children said all 31 cases of alleged abuse had taken place abroad and 16 people had been dismissed as a result.

Christian Aid said: “In the past 12 months, Christian Aid has investigated two incidents of sexual misconduct, both of which occurred overseas. One investigation led to the dismissal of a staff member, while the other case resulted in disciplinary action [not dismissal].”

It emerged last night that Oxfam did not give the Charity Commission full details about the use of prostitutes by some aid workers in Haiti seven years ago.

Haiti’s ambassador in London, Bocchit Edmond, criticised Oxfam for failing to inform the country’s authorities about the scandal and said it should publicly apologise.

The commission said: “We have written to the charity as a matter of urgency to request further information regarding the events in Haiti in 2011. This information will be considered as part of an ongoing case regarding the charity’s approach to safeguarding.”

Mordaunt said the Department for International Development was not told about the events at the time.

She said “They [Oxfam] initially said that they were investigating misconduct and when they concluded that report they did not tell us the nature of these events.

“They did tell the Charity Commission that there was sexual inappropriate behaviour, bullying and harassment of employees but they did not report that to us.”

She added that Oxfam also reassured the department that no harm was done and there was no involvement of any beneficiaries.

Andrew Marr said: “That was a lie, wasn’t it?”

Mordaunt replied: “Well, quite.”

She said she did not know what Oxfam’s motivation was for handling the investigation as it did, and warned that its relationship with the government was at risk.

“If the moral leadership at the top of the organisation is not there then we cannot have you as a partner,” she said.

Mordaunt said the charity had done “absolutely the wrong thing” by failing to tell the Charity Commission and prosecuting authorities the full details of the allegations.

She added: “If they do not hand over all the information that they have from their investigation and subsequently to the relevant authorities including the Charity Commission and prosecuting authorities then I cannot work with them any more as an aid delivery partner.”

Former international development secretary Priti Patel told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics she was aware of abuse involving aid workers in disaster zones and had done her own research on the issue

She told the programme: “People knew in DfID, I raised this directly with my department at the time.

“I had quotes from the United Nations reports on the number of people.

“I think even the secretary-general last year said there were 120 cases involving something like over 300 people, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.”



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