‘Oxfam Sex Scandal’ Hits Close to Home

The ‘Oxfam scandal’ has dominated headlines since allegations were published about its staff hiring prostitutes whilst working overseas in crisis hit regions. As more and more accusations have been released, on Monday 12 February, the Charity Commission – the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, opened a new statutory inquiry into Oxfam.


The story has continued to unfold after The Times on Friday 9 February that ‘Top Oxfam staff paid Haiti survivors for sex’. Since then, multiple allegations have been released creating a snowball-like torrent of damning consequences for the charity, facing accusations from governments and the public. At the time of publication, it has been reported that MPs sitting on the International Development Committee are to question senior Oxfam executives on measures they have taken to prevent future exploitation.


According to the Charities Aid Foundation Report of Charitable Giving in 2017 trustworthiness of charities runs is at just 50%. With women and children being most likely to trust them, these stories of abuse by men in positions of power targeted at this precise demographic, suggests it is probable that this will heavily impact trust levels.

In 2016, British people personally donated a total £9.7 billion. Given these allegations, it is also expected that this will decrease significantly. The charity itself has confirmed that over 1000 direct debit payments have already been cancelled on the weekend since the story  came to light . Alongside this, Oxfam received £31.7 million from the UK government – around a quarter of UK government foreign aid spend each year. Considering these allegations, it is also expected that this amount will decrease significantly. International Development Secretary, Penny Mourdant, said in a statement that Oxfam “has agreed to withdraw from bidding for any new UK government funding until DfID (the Department for International Development) is satisfied that they can meet the high standards we expect of our partners”. Representing nearly an 8% portion of their net income, this withdrawal of funds indicates a great loss to Oxfam’s future financial stability and its ability to continue its charitable works abroad.


Furthermore, actress, Minnie Driver, became the first celebrity face to step down from her role as a celebrity ambassador to Oxfam, on Tuesday 13 February, stating in a tweet that she was “devastated” at both the allegations and response from Oxfam’s board. Following this, a slew of high-profile withdrawals of support have taken place, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu who resigned in a statement following the “immorality and possible criminality” at Oxfam.


Responses from Oxfam’s top staff members have been mixed, with Oxfam International’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima, saying that Oxfam would “atone for the past” misdeeds and invited victims to come forward stating that looking onward, the charity would “build a new culture that doesn’t tolerate that behaviour”.


However, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, Mark Goldring, in an interview with The Guardian has hit back at attacks by critics citing them as “out of proportion to the level of culpability” and that they should not have an impact on the good that Oxfam does overseas. This was quickly followed by a full-page advertisement published in the same newspaper the following day apologising for the “appalling behaviour that happened in [their] name”. And further to this, after facing fierce criticism and calls to resign in reaction to his response downplaying the scandal, in an interview, Goldring then proceeded to insist on the seriousness with which Oxfam was taking these allegations.


Following the charity’s public release of its 2011 internal investigation report into alleged sexual misconduct, this redacted report shields the names of the seven staff (excepting the publiclyaccused Roland van Hauwermeiren) who were sacked or were permitted voluntary leave after the enquiry into the hiring of prostitutes in Haiti.


Nonetheless, considering an earlier 2008 report published by Save the Children UK detailing ‘the under-reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers’. During the UN Mission in Cambodia in 1992-3, the reported number of prostitutes more than tripled, rising from 6000 to 25,000.This raises the question of the wave of accusations now coming to public awareness of reports on those abusing their positions of power have been under the radar for decades – also seen in the recent Harvey Weinstein #MeToo campaign.


With the power of social media to give a voice to the voiceless, seen in anecdotal tweets attached to the #OxfamScandal, it gives victims an opportunity to tell their story. And in this case, become a force for change, supporting the most deprived members of society and those in crisis abroad.



Kia Norris


[Images: AFP, Oxfam, thisismoney.co.uk, EBL News, CBC news, tuscon.com]