- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2018

A top Oxfam official resigned Monday after the leading global aid organization was rocked by reports of sexual misconduct by aid workers in Haiti and Chad, including an alleged “Caligula orgy” with prostitutes.

Polly Lawrence, deputy chief executive of Oxfam Great Britain, stepped down as the charity came under fire for failing to disclose details about sexual abuse involving staffers in Haiti, who threw sex parties with prostitutes during relief operations for the 2011 earthquake, according to an explosive Friday report in the Times of London.

“As programme director at the time, I am ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility,” Ms. Lawrence said in a statement.

Oxfam admitted Friday that seven aid workers were fired or resigned after an internal investigation conducted after the 2011 Haiti response unearthed “bullying, harassment, intimidation and failure to protect staff as well as sexual misconduct.”

The scandal ballooned Sunday with reports that staff in Chad brought prostitutes to the team house in 2006.

“Over the last few days we have become aware that concerns were raised about the behaviour of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that we failed to adequately act upon,” said Ms. Lawrence in a statement. “It is now clear that these allegations — involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the Country Director and members of his team in Chad — were raised before he moved to Haiti.”

She referred to Roland van Hauwermeiren, country director in Haiti and Chad, who was allowed to resign in exchange for his cooperation after admitting to inviting prostitutes in 2011 to his residence rented by the charity in Delmas, Haiti.

Prostitution is illegal in Haiti, but the misconduct was not reported to Haitian authorities. Allegations that some of the prostitutes were under 18 were “unproven,” according to Oxfam.

“The legal advice we received in Haiti was that given the nature of the allegations, especially with the continued upheaval and chaos post the earthquake, it was extremely unlikely that reporting these incidents to the police would lead to any action being taken,” Oxfam said in a statement.

The disclosures prompted British Prime Minister Theresa May to order a “full and urgent” probe into the relief organization, which received $43.8 million from the British government in 2017.

An unnamed source told the Times of London that male workers living in the charity residence in Haiti were “throwing big parties with prostitutes,” while three sources said the prostitutes appeared to be 14 to 16, which is under the age of consent.

“These girls were wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked, it was a like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable,” said a source in the Times report. “It was crazy. At one party there were at least five girls and two of them had Oxfam white T-shirts on. These men used to talk about holding ‘young meat barbecues.’”

A secular relief charity focused on fighting poverty, Oxfam is recognized as one of the world’s top humanitarian aid organizations, ranked alongside groups such as the World Food Programme, CARE, and the International Federation of Red Cross.

Abby Maxman, president of Oxfam America, said Monday in a statement that she was “appalled and dismayed” by the revelations but determined to learn from them.

“Our response in 2011 clearly did not meet the standards that we have today,” she said. “We could have done more including, but not limited to, sharing more information in our public communications.”

She noted that Oxfam established after the 2011 investigation a Safeguarding Task Force and processes to protect and assist those who report staff misconduct.

Oxfam’s priority is to stand fully by the survivors of such reprehensible behavior — and to ensure that such behavior is absolutely expunged from our organization,” Ms. Maxman said. “We stand firmly against the exploitation and abuse of women and girls. That the event took place seven years ago and involved a small number of staff is no cause for complacency.”

Oxfam is no fan of President Trump, echoing the Democratic Party’s criticism of his stances on issues such as climate change, tax reform and immigration.

This month, Oxfam America joined the ACLU of Massachusetts in a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s executive order on refugees and immigration, which the organization described as “discriminatory.”

Oxfam also slammed the Trump tax cuts as “looting the US treasury to enrich the 1 percent” and “leaving the rest of the world to fight over crumbs.”


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