United Kingdom: Prostitution scandal shakes Oxfam
Aid workers at one of Britain’s biggest charities have been accused of sexually exploiting disaster victims, said Sean O’Neill in The Times. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Oxfam spent more than $100 million on relief efforts in the country. But an investigation by this paper has revealed that senior officials with the charity, including its country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, routinely paid disaster survivors for sex. Drivers were sent to pick up girls—some possibly underage—for sex parties at an Oxfam-rented guesthouse. A source described one party as “a full-on Caligula orgy.” Yet after a whistleblower alerted Oxfam to the misconduct, Van Hauwermeiren and two other officials were allowed to resign without sanction, because sacking them “would have potentially serious implications for the charity’s work and reputation.” Oxfam kept quiet about the transgressions, and Van Hauwermeiren got a new job running a different charity in Bangladesh. Oxfam’s deputy CEO, Penny Lawrence, who was in charge of the Haiti program at the time, resigned this week as reports emerged that Van Hauwermeiren and members of his team allegedly hired prostitutes while working in Chad in 2006. Other heads may roll.
The government must make an example of Oxfam, said Sean O’Grady in Independent.co.uk. “Far too many people are looking for reasons not to give to charity,” and unpunished scandals are a perfect excuse. It will always be tricky to manage the interactions between well-off aid workers and the vulnerable populations they serve, including desperate girls who are “homeless, starving, fleeing natural disasters or war.” It takes a committed “culture of responsibility” to keep the mission in line—and once an organization has failed, only “the strongest of sanctions” can restore trust. Oxfam gets $44 million a year from the U.K. government, about 8 percent of its overall income. Let it reinvent itself without taxpayer largesse.
No one should be surprised by this scandal, said Dominic Lawson in the Daily Mail. Aid workers like to say they’re part of “the humanitarian community,” but their behavior on the ground exposes their true morals. Dutch journalist Linda Polman, who exposed the ugly behavior of do-gooders in her 2010 book War Games, says she knows aid workers who cared for “war orphans by day and relaxed by night in the arms of child prostitutes.” Perhaps we could put up with such misdeeds if these charities actually lifted millions out of poverty. But their aid often only fattens the wallets of corrupt governments.
Don’t tar all aid workers, said The Guardian in an editorial. The Haitian earthquake killed some 220,000 people and made 1.5 million homeless, and Oxfam and other charities did crucial work in the aftermath. While the cover-up of this scandal was obviously wrong, it involved only a few bad apples. We must not let it “undermine the case for generous aid spending.” Helping the poorest remains both our “moral obligation and a pragmatic policy.” ■