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Thu 12 December 2019
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A report to be published tomorrow by the Charity Commission will single out Oxfam’s failures on sexual exploitation, while brushing aside the much bigger scale of the problem.

An excoriating report on Oxfam’s mismanagement and failure to act over the sexual exploitation of victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2011 will be published tomorrow by the UK’s charity watchdog.

But, the Charity Commission will ignore a much wider scandal which suggests that 23 of the world’s biggest overseas aid charities are hiding far worse sexual exploitation of vulnerable people by their own staff and of women and gay aid workers.

The statutory report – which may go as far as censuring Oxfam over the issue – has already led to the global poverty charity launching a major review of its safeguarding procedures, resulting in 43 people being dismissed.

We are absolutely not complacent on the question of charities and their historic reporting of safeguarding failures.

The Charity Commission

The revelations about the Haiti sex exploitation has already cost the charity dear.

Penny Mordaunt, the former International Development Secretary, suspended Government cash to Oxfam – worth £31.7m – and it has been thrown out of Haiti by its government. Donations have only recently recovered.


Byline Times understands that the Charity Commission’s report does not take into account the findings of a much wider 2017 report – ‘Stop the Sexual Assault against Humanitarian and Development Aid Workers’ – which examined safeguarding by humanitarian agencies and found widespread exploitation after two years of research and responses from 1,000 people.

This report revealed that few of them have proper safeguarding policies and, even if they did, they were not adhered to.

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It concluded that Oxfam – now being singled out by the Charity Commission and the Government – had the best safeguarding practices and recommended that they be adopted as a model by the rest of the international aid agencies. It also estimated that a startling 92% of incidents of sexual exploitation, harassment and bullying, were never reported or acted upon.

Yet, it is Oxfam which is being highlighted in the UK as the worst offender.

These startling revelations caused Parliament’s International Development Committee to comment last July on the need for much wider action by the Government on the issue, than just pursuing Oxfam.

The Charity Commission will ignore a much wider scandal which suggests that 23 of the world’s biggest overseas aid charities are hiding far worse sexual exploitation.

Giving evidence to the committee, the report’s authors Professor Dyan Mazurana and Phoebe Donnelly, of Tufts University, said: “The vast majority of humanitarian aid victims/survivors of sexual harassment and assault are women. Women aid workers of different nationalities and across a range of educational, experience, and authority levels within missions reported sexual harassment and assault.”

They also said that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) aid workers have reported experiencing “sexual identity harassment, blackmail, threats, and assaults”.

The report noted that 89% of its respondents, who reported sexual violence, were female, while 20% identified as LGBTI.

“Women and LGBT aid professionals who did report were widely dissatisfied with their agencies’ responses and experienced more harmful professional and personal consequences than those of their alleged perpetrators, who at times remained in their positions and continued perpetrating,” the authors added.

They told Byline Times that the countries where the worst abuse took place were South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Liberia. In Liberia, it has been estimated that peacekeeping forces used some 60,000 people for prostitution.

The authors would not name the charities and agencies involved in such widespread sexual exploitation, but they did say that these were international organisations – equivalent to Oxfam – based in the US, Europe and the UK.


A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “We are determined that our report will be accurate in fact, comprehensive in its findings, and clear and unflinching in the conclusions and the wider lessons… Oxfam is not the only charity that we are examining in connection with concerns about its approach to safeguarding. 

“…[we] undertook a ‘deep-dive’ of over 5,500 of our own historic records relating to safeguarding concerns dating back to 2014, to identify any possible gaps in full and frank disclosure in charities and to determine whether we and charities had responded appropriately to each incident.

The vast majority of humanitarian aid victims/survivors of sexual harassment and assault are women.

Professor Dyan Mazurana and Phoebe Donnelly

“That work made clear that, based on the information recorded at the time, there were no historic cases giving rise to serious or urgent concerns about either our handling at the time, or a charity’s response.

“That is, of course, different from concluding that there were no historic safeguarding concerns that charities had not made us aware of in the first place and, indeed, at the time (and before and since) we have reminded charities that if they have not yet reported a historic serious incident to us, or may have concerns about the information they provided to us in a historic report, they must take urgent action to remedy this by getting in touch with us. So we are absolutely not complacent on the question of charities and their historic reporting of safeguarding failures.”

Oxfam declined to comment in advance of the publication of the report tomorrow.

Come and hear more from David Hencke at this summer’s Byline Festival

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