The sexual harassment scandal began in Hollywood, and quickly spread into the world of politics. Now similar claims are rocking international charities.
After allegations that Oxfam staff used prostitutes as they delivered aid in Haiti following a devastating earthquake, two Scottish charities, Mercy Corps and the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (Sciaf), have revealed members of their staff were accused of sexual misconduct. Both charities involved local law enforcement and several people were sacked.
Among other revelations, Save the Children said it had investigated 31 claims of sexual harassment since 2016, referring 10 cases to the police and sacking 16 people.
Several Oxfam staff in Haiti also lost their jobs but one was later re-employed by the charity in Ethiopia as a result of what the charity described as a “serious error”. Amid such lax management, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the actor Minnie Driver, among others, have cut ties to the charity. Between Saturday and Monday, 1,270 people cancelled direct debit payments to Oxfam, about double the normal number of cancellations for an entire month. Such decisions are understandable; Oxfam has serious questions to answer about its oversight and safeguarding policies. However, there is a danger that the good work of such charities will be seriously damaged if we collectively turn our backs and cynically decide that international aid staff are ‘all the same’ so there’s no point in making a donation.
There is already a campaign to stop the UK, one of the world’s richest countries, sending foreign aid to some of the poorest places in the world, and it is one that is ruthlessly exploiting every case it can find where things have gone wrong.
This is a standard tactic: ignore every success and use relatively rare problems to suggest the whole system is rotten.
Every case of sexual misconduct and abuse of power by charity workers should be investigated thoroughly. The charities themselves need to make sure they are doing everything they can to prevent such behaviour and deal with it swiftly when it occurs.
But, amid the headlines, we should all remember the vast majority of charity workers are good people, trying to make a difference to the lives of those who most need our help, both in the UK and overseas.