Oxfam Scandal Part of Wider Sexual Abuse Cover-up

By | February 15, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 16 (C-Fam) The elite UK-based aid organization Oxfam has admitted to hosting lavish parties and hiring prostitutes for humanitarian aid workers in Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake. The scandal is part of a long-running and broader scandal that includes UN peacekeepers, UNICEF, and other aid organizations which UN staff have not held fully accountable.

Haitian President Jovenel Moise condemned Oxfam’s misconduct as an “extremely serious violation of human dignity.” In addition to hiring prostituted women for wild parties—some of whom may have been underage—Oxfam staff have been accused of coercing women into sex by withholding aid during a humanitarian intervention.

The story, first reported in the Times of London, was followed by further reports of inappropriate sexual behavior by staff of Oxfam and other leading aid agencies. The Guardian reported that Oxfam workers had also hired prostitutes in Chad.  An editorial in the Yorkshire Post described the Oxfam scandal as just the “tip of the iceberg.” The former chief of the UN Emergency Coordination Centre, Andrew MacLeod, called it “a global problem across all charities, including the United Nations.” He referred to the recent accusations of child abuse by UN peacekeepers, noting that some predators specifically join charities to get access to children.

The Netherlands branch of the UN children’s agency UNICEF also recently issued a public acknowledgment of its failure to protect children in the war-torn Central African Republic from rape committed by French peacekeepers.

One person who found these reports sadly unsurprising is Julie Bindel, English feminist author and activist against prostitution. She recounts similar misconduct by aid workers in Kosovo in 1999, where the influx of aid workers was accompanied by the building of brothels.  “Oxfam is supposed to put vulnerable women and children at the center of its efforts,” writes Bindel in the Independent, “and yet some of the organization’s most senior male officials appear to have done the opposite.”

Heated debates on whether prostitution is “sex work,” an occupation like any other, or a violation of the dignity of women and children, are a frequent occurrence within international institutions. In her editorial, Bindel strongly denounces the idea that aid workers hiring women for sex “are somehow doing a favor to their victims because money changes hands.”

Oxfam has taken a position in favor of legalized prostitution. Under its stated “values and principles,” a policy on “sexual diversity and gender identity rights” calls for attention to “the need to decriminalize consensual sex work.” They also cite a publication from Amnesty International titled “Sex worker Rights are Human Rights.”  In 2015, Amnesty generated controversy by announcing its position in favor of decriminalizing prostitution.

It remains to be seen whether Oxfam—which receives much of its support from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)—will lose funding in the wake of the scandal. The Guardian reports that Oxfam’s code of conduct has been updated since 2011, when the reported misconduct occurred, to prohibit “money, offers of employment, employment, goods or services for sex or sexual favors.”  The 2011 version “only prohibited sex with beneficiaries and anyone under 18.”