Charities abuse scandal

Commons committee condemns charities for secrecy over sex abuse

Residents walk in a destroyed area after a major earthquake hit the Haitian capital Port-au-PrinceAftermath of the terrible earthquake in Haiti.

By Lucy Ashton

Oxfam logoPeople in West Dunbartonshire who give regularly to charity – and there are thousands – will be looking closely at a new report which claims the aid sector is guilty of “complacency verging on complicity” over an “endemic” sex abuse scandal.  International Development Committee chairman, the Labour MP Stephen Twigg, said charities were “more concerned to protect their own reputation” rather than victims.  In February,  The Times of London revealed senior staff at Oxfam had paid survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti for sex.  Charities welcomed the report, and Oxfam said it has “further to go”.

The MPs’ report said “so much more” could have been done to tackle the “open secret” of people working in the aid sector committing such acts.

But despite the charities knowing about the problem, the committee said there had been a “collective failure of leadership”, and action only when there was a crisis.

The committee said this “episodic” response had been “reactive, patchy and sluggish”, and meant safeguarding policies were created but never effectively implemented.

The report also said leaders were “self-deluded” in thinking they had addressed problems before they became public. What should be done about it?

MPs called for more resources to be given to tackling the issue – and said victims had to be at the “heart of solutions”, or the response could be “harmful”.

The committee suggested:

  • Ensuring the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid have knowledge and confidence in their rights
  • Reports of sexual exploitation and abuse should be proactively sought and responded to robustly with feedback to victims and survivors
  • A zero-tolerance culture on sexual exploitation and abuse is the least that victims should expect
  • Known perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse should be identified through improved reporting and accountability and prevented from moving into new positions

Stephen Twigg suggested developing a “DBS-style system” for aid workers, where organisations could check previous allegations put forward about prospective employees.

“That won’t cure this but it’s one of the ways in which we can try to ensure this won’t happen again,” he said.

Oxfam Trustees chairwoman Caroline Thomson said the report made for “painful reading” for the whole aid sector, and she apologised for Oxfam failing to protect vulnerable women in Haiti.

She said the charity has tripled funding for safeguarding, established an independent whistle-blowing phone line and agreed to publish the details of safeguarding cases twice a year.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt welcomed the report, saying: “Until the sector is fully prepared to address the power imbalance, cultures, and behaviours that allow sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment to happen, we will never stamp it out.”

An international summit on the issue is due to take place in October, and Ms Mordaunt has called for the sector to demonstrate the progress they have made by then.

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