Deputy head of UK charity Oxfam resigns over sexual abuse scandal

Reuters
The deputy head of Oxfam resigned on Monday over what she said was the British charity's failure to adequately respond to allegations of sexual misconduct by some of its staff.
Reuters

The deputy head of Oxfam resigned on Monday over what she said was the British charity’s failure to adequately respond to past allegations of sexual misconduct by some of its staff.

The resignation of Penny Lawrence came after days of crisis at the charity triggered by a report in the Times newspaper alleging that some staff had paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti in 2011, during humanitarian relief efforts after an earthquake.

The scandal was fast escalating into a broader crisis for Britain’s aid sector by bolstering critics in the ruling Conservative Party who have argued that the government should reduce spending on aid in favor of domestic priorities.

Founded in 1942, Oxfam is one of Britain’s best-known charities, running humanitarian and aid operations across the globe. Its 650 shops selling second hand clothes and books to raise funds are a familiar sight on high streets across Britain.

While the government funds that Britain’s aid minister Penny Mordaunt Mordaunt has threatened to withdraw represent only about 8 percent of Oxfam’s overall income of 409 million pounds (US$ 565 million) in 2016/17, the risk for Oxfam is that private donations may also drop as a result of the bad publicity.

Oxfam has neither confirmed nor denied that allegation and made no further comment on Monday when contacted by reporters. It has said that following an internal investigation into alleged misconduct in 2011 four members of staff had been dismissed and three others, including the Haiti country director, had resigned.

The charity has apologized and said it was ashamed of what had happened, without spelling out what that was. It has also pledged to improve its procedures.

“The misconduct findings related to offenses including bullying, harassment, intimidation and failure to protect staff as well as sexual misconduct,” Oxfam said in a statement on Friday.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said the government needed to do more to ensure charities strengthened safeguarding procedures to ensure the “horrific behavior” seen in Haiti was not repeated.

Britain is one of only six nations to hit the UN target of spending 0.7 percent of gross national income on aid — about 13 billion pounds a year — but there have been increasingly vitriolic attacks on that spending in recent years.

Meeting the UN target was a policy championed by former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron as part of his efforts to re-brand his party as more compassionate. But with Cameron gone after campaigning on the losing side in the 2016 Brexit referendum, the political climate on aid has changed.

Priti Patel, an aid critic despite being Mordaunt’s predecessor as international development minister, said the Haiti incidents were just “the tip of the iceberg” and there was a “culture of denial” in the sector.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a right-wing Conservative lawmaker, delivered to May’s office on Friday a petition by Daily Express newspaper readers complaining that the aid budget should be cut.

Opposition Labour lawmaker Stephen Twigg, who chairs parliament’s aid committee, expressed horror at the allegations but said he was worried that aid critics would seize on the scandal to further their own agenda.

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