British inquiry: Oxfam GB covered up sexual abuse after quake in Haiti

A British charity covered up reports that its workers sexually exploited young Haitian girls and women in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the Charity Commission found.

The British charity Oxfam GB didn’t act on reports that its staff were sexually abusing girls and young women in Haitian refugee camps in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, a government inquiry found.

Oxfam GB has been under fire since allegations of sexual misconduct first surfaced, with 1,200 people canceling their direct deposit donations to the charity last year. The investigation by the Charity Commission found girls and women forced into prostitution while living in refugee camps after losing their homes in the earthquake.

There were nearly 1,000 confirmed victims with more than half of them being children. Oxfam has been accused of using the girls and women as prostitutes in exchange for relief supplies.

The inquiry also found evidence that Oxfam GB prioritized protecting its reputation and donor relationships over properly disclosing and reporting sexual abuse.

“The inquiry finds the charity failed to heed warnings, including from its own staff, that its culture and response around keeping people safe was inadequate, and made commitments to safeguarding that were not matched by its actions,” the Charity Commission said in a statement.

Charity Commission CEO Helen Stephenson said Oxfam’s internal culture tolerated poor behavior and lost sight of its values.

“The charity’s leadership may have been well-intentioned,” Stephenson said. “But our report demonstrated that good intentions have limited value when they are not matched with resources, robust systems and processes that are implemented on the ground, and more importantly, an organizational culture that prioritizes keeping people safe.”

It also found that Oxfam didn’t follow up with victims of sexual misconduct in Haiti, especially if they were minors, didn’t report child abuse by Oxfam staff and didn’t take the victims seriously enough. The discipline for staff who were implicated in sexual misconduct wasn’t consistent, as senior staff had more lenient punishment than junior staff.

Stephenson credited whistle blowers for bringing the case to their attention.

Moving forward, Stephenson said the charity’s new leadership has acknowledged past mistakes and committed publicly to learning its lessons. But this inquiry is just the beginning for Oxfam.

“Its leadership has hard work ahead of it,” Stephenson said. “We will be watching their progress closely in the weeks and months ahead.”

ByNicholas Sakelaris