LONDON: British aid organisation Oxfam faced fresh pressure on Tuesday after a former senior member of staff said her concerns about “a culture of sexual abuse” involving aid workers in some the organisation’s offices had been ignored.
Helen Evans, who was in charge of investigating allegations against Oxfam staff members between 2012 and 2015, told Channel 4 television that abuse cases she had heard of included a woman who had been coerced to have sex in exchange for aid.
Another involved an assault on a teenage volunteer by a staff member in a charity shop in Britain, she said.
A survey of Oxfam staff in three countries including South Sudan showed around 10 per cent of staff had been sexually assaulted and others had witnessed or experienced rape or attempted rape by colleagues, Evans said.
Evans, who headed a “safeguarding” section responsible for protecting staff and the people Oxfam works with, spoke of frustration that her calls for more support for her team were not taken seriously enough.
“I felt that our failure to adequately resource was putting people at risk,” she said in an interview broadcast by Channel 4 late on Monday. “I struggle to understand why they didn’t respond immediately to that call for additional resource.”
One of the best-known international NGOs, with aid programs running across the globe, Oxfam is under threat of losing its British government funding over the sexual misconduct allegations.
Asked about Evans’s allegations, Oxfam said her work had spurred the organization into taking concrete steps to improve the way it deals with “safeguarding” issues.
“We regret that we did not act on Helen’s concerns much quicker and with more resources,” the statement said.
“We have doubled the number of people to four in our dedicated safeguarding team and we are in the process of recruiting two extra staff.” The deputy head of Oxfam resigned on Monday over what she said was the British charity’s failure to adequately respond to past allegations of sexual misconduct by some of its staff in Haiti and Chad.
The scandal is escalating into a broader crisis for Britain’s aid sector by bolstering critics in the ruling Conservative Party who have argued that the government should reduce spending on aid in favour of domestic priorities.
Aid minister Penny Mordaunt threatened on Sunday to withdraw government funding from Oxfam unless it gave the full facts about events in Haiti.
After meeting Oxfam officials on Monday, Mordaunt said she had written to all British charities working overseas to demand that “they step up and do more so that we have absolute assurance that the moral leadership, the systems, the culture and the transparency that are needed.”
Britain’s Charity Commission launched a statutory inquiry on Monday, saying it had concerns that Oxfam “may not have fully and frankly disclosed material details about the allegations at the time in 2011, it’s handling of the incidents since, and the impact that these have both had on public trust and confidence”.