Oxfam’s deputy CEO resigns over overseas sex scandal

British Government threatens to cut off funding if charities don’t comply with review

Oxfam aid workers have been accused of paying Haiti earthquake survivors for sex
(Image credit: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Image)

Oxfam’s deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence resigned today, saying she takes “full responsibility” for failings in the charity’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by aid workers in Haiti and Chad.

“I am desperately sorry for the harm and distress that this has caused,” said Lawrence, who was the international programmes director when the concerns were first reported, in 2011.

“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,” Lawrence said, according to Reuters.

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Oxfam is fighting to save both its reputation and its government aid funding. Britain will cut off government funding to any organisation that does not comply with a new review into charities’ work overseas, the International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has said.

She was speaking after The Times reported that aid workers employed by Oxfam had paid survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake for sex. The charity then lied to the department about why its staff members had been dismissed.

Oxfam received £32m from the Government last year, but Mordaunt has warned that her department will cut its funding for the charity unless its bosses can prove in a meeting with her today that they have the “moral leadership” needed going forward.

Oxfam’s chair of trustees in the UK, Caroline Thomson, said she shared the “anger and shame that behaviour like that highlighted in Haiti in 2011 happened in our organisation”. Thomson announced new measures dealing with the prevention and handling of sexual abuse cases, and how employees were vetted and recruited.

Oxfam has faced “growing criticism over the way it handled the allegations of misconduct by its staff in Haiti”, says the BBC. The charity’s own investigation into the allegations led to four people being sacked, but according to The Guardian, other staff were allowed to resign voluntarily and seek new jobs elsewhere in the aid sector.

Far from being an isolated incident, it appears sexual abuse and exploitation within the charity sector is widespread.

The Sunday Times has reported more than 120 workers for Britain’s leading charities were accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone, “fuelling fears that paedophiles are targeting overseas aid organisations”.

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