Helen Evans, Oxfam’s former Head of Safeguarding from 2012 to 2015 has revealed, “teenage volunteers at UK shops had been abused and overseas staff had traded aid for sex.”
Ms Evans has accused Mark Goldring Oxfam’s Chief Executive of failing to act on her reports and cancelling a meeting which had been due to take place to discuss her concerns about abuse involving Oxfam’s workers.
These allegations have come at a time when Oxfam is also facing revelations that they have covered up the use of prostitutes by senior staff after the Haiti earth quake. Last night The Charity Commission opened a statutory enquiry over concerns that Oxfam,
“ may not have fully and frankly disclosed material details about the Haiti allegations in 2011 and its handling of the incidents since and the impact that these have both had on public trust and confidence.”
Widza Bryant who is former employee of Oxfam has said that “management knew about the alleged abused in Haiti in 2009 to 2012. Local drivers would tell her that folks come to Haiti pretending that they’re her to help but they were exploiting the locals.”
Penny Lawrence, Oxfam’s Deputy Chief executive has resigned saying that she was “ashamed that this happened on my watch.”
Ms Evans has alleged that, “On a single day during her tenure she had received three allegations of sexual misconduct and abusive behaviour by Oxfam workers overseas. There was one of a woman being coerced to have sex in a humanitarian response by another aid worker, another case where a woman had been coerced in exchange for aid and another where it had come to our attention that a member of staff had been struck off for sexual abuse and hadn’t disclosed it”. She further commented that, “there were those in senior leadership positions who knew of the scale of what we were dealing with and in my view did not adequately respond to that.”
Ms Evans has also disclosed that “sexual abuse by shop managers in UK stores against young volunteers was covered up.” She was concerned about the lack of background and criminal checks that were performed on employees who were working with teenage children. She reported that there were 12 allegations of abuse over a 2 year period; with volunteers as young as 14 making claims of abuse.
It is common for teenagers to work for Oxfam as volunteers and they are actively encouraged to volunteer by various awards schemes they can participate in. She was particularly concerned by a case involving a manager of a shop who is alleged to have tried to stop a young volunteer from pursuing her charges of assault against a male adult volunteer.
Ms Evans said, “Parents trust these organisations to keep their children safe when they volunteer, these are 14 year old children and if parents knew that those adults were not checked they would not be sending those children into those shops.”
Ms Evans was so frustrated that “her bosses were ignoring her evidence” that she resigned from her post. After leaving Oxfam Ms Evans reported her concerns to the Charity Commission and the Department of International Development.” It is understood that steps were taken to investigate her concerns but a formal regulatory investigation was not commenced until last year.
Mr Goldring has stated that Oxfam has acted on Ms Evan’s concerns by strengthening safeguarding and sending training units overseas.
The International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt has warned Oxfam that public trust must be regained or taxpayer’s money could be withheld and The EU has said that they are, “prepared to cut funding to any partner who is not living up to the required high ethical standards.”
The Charity Commission has announced a formal inquiry into Oxfam. The Deputy Head of the Commission has said, “Charities and dedicated, hard working aid workers undertake vital lifesaving work in some of the most difficult circumstances across the world. However, the issues revealed in recent days are shocking and unacceptable. It is important that we take this urgent steps to ensure that matters can be dealt with fully and robustly.”
Penny Mordaunt has also written to every British Charity and who receive Government money to ask for the assurance that they operate safeguarding practises to prevent abuse.
It is of concern that the implication of Ms Evan’s evidence is that sexual predators have moved into the area of charity and aid work. It is imperative that we support British Charities in tightening their safeguarding procedures to ensure that people and teenagers who volunteer to work for them are not at risk of suffering abuse. Parents must be reassured that when they encourage their teenage children to engage in voluntary work with charities they will be safe.
Jordans Solicitors are highly experienced in representing victims of abuse. If you have been affected by anything in this article, please contact the abuse team on 0800 9555 094.