Oxfam’s Problem with Rape, Sexual Violence and Abuse

Over the past few years Oxfam’s reputation in both the UK and abroad has suffered from a series of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse committed by Oxfam’s employees and agents in overseas emergency and long-term aid operations.  


After the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Oxfam investigated, a year later, reports that Oxfam-employed workers in Haiti were sexually abusing local women and girls.  

Seven members of the Oxfam team in Haiti, including the head of the operation, Roland van Hauwermeiren, resigned or were sacked for sexual conduct in 2011.  Prostitutes, some possibly underage, had been entertained at Oxfam properties in Haiti.  

Oxfam carried out an investigation into the allegations and then did its best to cover the scandal up.  Oxfam concluded that the behaviour was not a case of exchanging ‘sex for aid’ and did not make the report public at the time because the prostitutes involved were not beneficiaries of aid.

In February 2018, Mr Goldring, then Leader of Oxfam, admitted the organisation had kept the 2011 scandal quiet but said it was not in anyone’s best interests to be describing the details of behaviour in a way that was ‘actually going to draw extreme attention to it’.  

Penny Mordaunt, then International Development Secretary, said in 2018:

What is so disturbing about Oxfam is that when this was reported to them, they completely failed to do the right thing.

Caroline Thomson, Oxfam’s Chair of Trustees in 2018, said the charity was determined to “learn” from what had happened.  

The Charity Commission, in its June 2019 report about Oxfam and Haiti, was damning of Oxfam’s behaviour.  It found that:

Oxfam GB’s approach to disclosure and reporting was marked, at times, by a desire to protect the charity’s reputation and donor relationships.

The Charity Commission imposed a 19 month statutory supervision of Oxfam, ending in February 2021, because of its failings in safeguarding in the past.  

Recent Allegations

There were further allegations made about Oxfam in April 2021, leading to a further suspension in Government funding for Oxfam. Those lessons didn’t appear to have been learned, yet.

In a Hole, Still Digging

In 2020 the Charity’s LGBT+ network wrote a training manual called ‘Learning about trans rights and inclusion’.

Instead of thinking that sexual violence is a problem that Oxfam ought to combat, this training document says:

Mainstream feminism centres on privileged white women and demands that ‘bad men’ be fired or imprisoned.

It is apparently the position of this “training” that reporting sexual violence to the Police legitimises criminal punishment, harming black and other marginalised people.

The Oxfam document says that white feminists need to ask themselves whether they are causing harm when they fight sexual violence:

White feminist tears deploy white woundedness, and the sympathy it generates, to hide the harms we perpetrate through white supremacy.

It appears to be the case that Oxfam is telling its employees that ‘white feminists’ who report rape and think that criminal punishment is a legitimate consequence for those who perpetrate physical and sexual violence against women are the problem rather than the solution.

Viewed through this distorting lens, the UK criminal justice’s record on rape appears to be good.  A  small minority of rapes are reported.  Not all of those reported are prosecuted, and conviction rates are extremely low.  

It has been a matter of concern to many involved with the criminal justice system for the past decade that rape is a crime that many men commit with impunity.

Blaming women for white supremacy if  they report rape and expect to be protected from it is a new low.

Women who have been raped are not white supremacists, or bigots, or seeking to punish men. 

The problem with rape is not women who report it and want justice.  The problem with rape is rapists. 

Such training could expose the organisation to claims by women who attend such training for unlawful harassment. It might well create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for  such women employees  related to their sex and race, contrary to the Equality Act 2010.

Sadly, Oxfam now seeks to silence or shame women who have been raped or abused. 



Note added 13th June 2021 – the conviction rate as a proportion of initial complaints of rape is strikingly low. It is important to remember, however, that once a decision has been made to prosecute a case, the conviction rate is no lower than other types of criminal offences. The prosecution rate is approx. 3.6%.

One of Legal Feminist’s criminal law specialists hopes to write about this important issue in the future.


Disagreeing with a Woman: Threats of Rape and Violence

 On 4th June 2021 the Daily Telegraph published an article on concerns about the Stonewall Equality Diversity Champions programme. The article included a couple of short quotations from me. On 7th June 2021 I received a long, intense email addressed to my work email account from a reader of the piece who disagreed vehemently with what I had said.

After expressing some general concerns and criticisms of my character, knowledge, legitimacy, family history and ethics, the writer opined that he (I presume) would be able to change my opinion if he were given the opportunity. He proposed to change my mind through rape and violence – conduct that would result in more than 10 years in prison if it took place. Included were 3 separate photos illustrating different young women being whipped and sexually assaulted.

I am sure that nothing written in this email was written with the knowledge, approval or consent of Stonewall. I have no doubt that Stonewall would never condone threats of sexual violence addressed to those who criticise or disapprove of Stonewall. This email demonstrates, however, a wider problem in British life. Women who are in any way visible – and this was an article in the Daily Telegraph, not a section of a  primetime television show – attract a degree of misogyny, threats, sexual imagery and proposed sexual violence that is utterly unacceptable.

Of course this is #notallmen. It is a very small number of men and I am sure the vast majority would never direct such images of rape and violence against women no matter how strongly they disagreed with their opinions. But there is a small, noisy minority of men who do behave in this way. All surveys of women who are MPs, journalists, television presenters, columnists or otherwise publicly visible demonstrate that they attract disproportionately aggressive and misogynistic responses such as these.

Emails of this kind can amount to criminal offences – depending on the context, content and the number of threats, offences could include harassment, contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, malicious communications, contrary to the Malicious Communications Act 1988 or Communications Act 2003, making a threat to kill, contrary to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, making a threat to commit criminal damage, the Criminal Damage Act 1971, or blackmail, contrary to section 21 Theft Act 1968. Identifying an offender is not always easy with emails, of course. 

Of course, this is not really about the women who are the subject of these kinds of threats. The man who made threats of sexual violence to Joanna Cherry did not know her, any more than my correspondent yesterday knows me. This is about those men, not about the women who are the subject of the threats. It points to an inadequacy and threatened insecurity in the men themselves, rather than in their targets.

But aggression and unpleasantness of this kind deters women from participating in public life. Nobody, of either sex or any opinion, should be subject to threats in this way. My particular correspondent chose the anonymity of a ProtonMail address and cannot be traced. But when men  who have behaved in this way can be traced, it should be made apparent that such behaviour is always unacceptable. Perhaps such men should realise they do no good to the causes they claim to support when they act in this manner.

No woman reading a message like this thinks, “Oh, of course, this charming gentleman threatening rape seems a normal and sensible chap, maybe he’s got a point.” Instead, they think merely of his inadequacies and failings.

Everybody in the UK, particularly, in this instance women, deserves better than this.


Bell v Tavistock and Portman

Can children and young people give informed consent to being prescribed puberty blockers after a diagnosis of gender dysphoria? If so, what information do they need to give properly informed consent?


Can children and young people give informed consent to being prescribed puberty blockers after a diagnosis of gender dysphoria? If so, what information do they need to give  properly informed consent? 

These were the important questions considered in Bell and Ors v Tavistock and Portman, with an interested party (NHS England) and interveners (UCH Trust, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust and Transgender Trend). It was heard, unusually for a judicial review, by three Judges including the President of the Queen’s Bench Division and a Lord Justice of Appeal. 

The Claimants were a young adult who was prescribed puberty blockers by GIDS, and later cross-sex hormones, and a mother concerned about her daughter potentially being prescribed such drugs.The Defendant is the main clinic for the treatment of gender dysphoria in under 18s, known as “GIDS”. The NHS trusts who intervened are the hospitals which oversee the actual hormonal treatments, when patients are referred to them by GIDS.

What the Court was Not Deciding

This case has nothing to do with abortion in general, abortion for under 16s, or contraception. It has little to do with other forms of informed consent to medical treatment by under 18s, because of the very specific nature of gender dysphoria and its treatment. Gender dysphoria is a condition without physical manifestations, but  treatment with puberty blockers causes physical changes that can be life-long and life-changing.

The court was not deciding whether puberty blockers for under 18s were a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. It was deciding whether GIDS’ own policy was lawful in light of the information and data available to GIDS.

Factual Findings Made and Facts Considered

The court considered  witness evidence from many different people, including medical experts from GIDS, trans people under 18, and trans people over 18 who had previously been treated at GIDS.

In terms of GIDS’ own data and records, the court was clearly concerned that little systematic data was being recorded, considered and taken into account. For example, from 2011 to 2019, GIDS had no details of the ages of children and young people prescribed puberty blockers. It did not record co-existing conditions such as autism. It did not have data about the numbers of patients treated with puberty blockers who then went on to be prescribed cross-sex hormones or undergo surgery for dysphoria.

Surprising the High Court is not, in this context, a positive thing.

The court said more than once it was “surprised” that the Defendant did not collect this information. Surprising the High Court is not, in this context, a positive thing.

The court considered that the Defendant’s data and research did not distinguish between puberty blockers prescribed to younger children who were undergoing premature puberty, and puberty blockers prescribed for gender dysphoria to children and young people going through puberty at a normal age. The premature puberty use was the source of almost all the data in relation to puberty blockers.

On the Defendant’s own evidence, there was a paucity of data about the effects, benefits and disadvantages of treating gender dysphoria by puberty blockers. The UCL study which started in 2011 has still not published full peer-reviewed results. The court asked for such results, but did not receive them.There are not, apparently, any other comprehensive studies into such treatment. The interim paper produced by Dr. Carmichael, head of GIDS, “noted that there was no overall improvement in mood or psychological wellbeing using standardized psychological measures.”

For all these reasons, the court considered that the prescription of puberty blockers to those of a standard age for puberty as treatment for gender dysphoria was experimental.

The court also considered that the evidence, while not complete, indicated that a very large percentage of children and young people prescribed puberty blockers went on to take cross-sex hormones later. So a child’s consent to take puberty blockers could not be informed consent without an understanding of the overwhelming likelihood that it would lead to taking cross-sex hormones afterwards, and an understanding of the consequences of that decision.

The court considered, on the basis of the Defendant’s own evidence, that taking puberty blockers could not be said to be entirely reversible or without consequences. There was insufficient evidence about the consequences of long-term suppression of puberty, but there were possible risks for physical development (bone density, growth, height) and the psychological development which occurs during puberty. Data from children prescribed puberty blockers to prevent premature puberty did not assist in analysing this, because those children went through puberty at roughly the same time as their peers.

So a child or young person giving informed consent to taking puberty blockers had to understand and weigh the information about the likelihood of loss of fertility, loss of sexual function and enjoyment, and associated consequences as well as the risks to physical and psychological development.

Lastly, the court found there was a lack of clarity and consistency about the aim of treatment with puberty blockers, and how success could be assessed. There were references to a “pause”, or a time in which a child could think further and explore sex and gender identity. There were references to preventing distress and gender dysphoria caused by going through puberty in the child’s birth sex. There were also suggestions that it would be easier for a child or young person to transition through surgery after adulthood if puberty had not occurred.

If you don’t know what the aim of a treatment is, and don’t clearly have that aim in mind, it is hard to see how the success of a treatment can be assessed.

The Court’s Conclusions

The court decided that it was most unlikely that a child of 13 or under could understand, take in, and properly weigh the information about the effects and consequences of taking puberty blockers, including the likelihood of proceeding to cross-sex hormones. It was difficult to see how a child of that age could properly consider the issues of fertility, sexual function and pleasure, and life-long consequences.

The court’s conclusion was, therefore, that it was going to be very rare that a child was capable of giving informed consent to puberty blockers aged 13 or under.

The court concluded that 14 and 15 year olds were more mature, older, and it was possible that some under 16s would be capable of giving informed consent to treatment with blockers, but the court was “very doubtful” that many 14 and 15 year olds would be able to give such consent.

The legal position for 16 and 17 year olds in relation to medical treatment is different; there is a presumption of capacity. The court sounded a note of caution, however, stating that clinicians “may well consider that it is not appropriate to move to treatment, such as PBs or CSH, without the involvement of the court”: in other words, they may need to apply to the court to make a determination on a young person’s best interests. It is a warning to doctors prescribing such drugs that they must take great care.

GIDS and the Trusts were not criticised for the information they gave. The Court accepted that the written information to children, young people and parents tried hard to give full information that explained the potential consequences. The problem is not the information given but the ability of children and young people to understand and weigh it up.

Bow Street Night Courts Pilot – My Experience

There is Nothing New Under the Sun…..

I took part in the Night Courts Street Pilot when I was a Second Sixth Pupil, in the summer of 2002. I was, at the time, not someone who had any particular caring responsibilities or other difficulties. I was a 24 year old woman, with no children. For about 6 months, two Magistrates’ Courts were open on Friday and Saturday nights to deal with newly-arrested Defendants, which meant that they didn’t have to be held over to Saturday mornings or Mondays, respectively.

I went to the Bow Street pilot scheme, and I understand that Manchester also had a pilot court running.

It was a nightmare, both personally and professionally.

Those cases which were just a waste of time were the better ones. Some went wrong in ways that were significantly worse.

As a pupil, I was “on call” every other weekend and bank holiday. Other than during the pilot, that meant I could be (and almost always was) instructed to go to a Magistrates’ Court on a Saturday morning and do a “First Appearance”, which means applying for bail, taking basic instructions, receiving the initial prosecution papers, and fixing the next court hearing, usually for plea or committal (at the Mags) or first appearance at the Crown Court (if an indictable-only offence).

The pilot kicked off in July or August 2002. It meant that every other weekend, I was on-call for Bow Street Magistrates Night Court on Friday evening, A N Other Magistrates on Saturday morning, and back to Bow Street on Saturday evening. After a full week as a pupil, rushing around the country, and with a similarly-full week on the horizon, it was tiring and tough.

Several weekends I did indeed do the full monty, with 3 extra Magistrates’ hearings over the weekend.

Reasons Why Many of the Bow Street Hearings were a Waste of Time:

  1. The papers didn’t arrive when the Defendant did, because it was out-of-hours;
  2. The papers arrived and the Defendant didn’t (ditto);
  3. The Def was too drunk/high/ tired/other to be able to take part;

then there were the hearings where the Def was sober enough, present, and the papers were also there:

  1. The case needed the Youth Offending Team. “Sorry, not available, come back on Monday”;
  2. The case needed a new PNC printout. “Sorry, come back on Monday”;
  3. The case needed to hear from probation. “Monday”;
  4. The case needed a check with social services / similar. “Monday”;
  5. The case needed information on drugs / alcohol / community service / etc. “Monday”;
  6. A relevant file was in another court / police station / etc. “Monday”.

Worse Than a Waste

There were two cases of mine which went beyond “waste of everyone’s time, energy, and money” and were actually a nightmare. One involved an under-18, so there’s not much more I can say about it.

The other involved an adult Defendant, accused of three robberies. Standard steps went ahead with no more than usual Saturday night time wasting – I took instructions in the cells, filled in the legal aid forms, received the initial papers from the CPS, etc. I had arrived at Bow Street at 5.45pm for a 6pm start, the Defendant had been produced by 6.30pm, and the papers had arrived at the same time.

During the Court hearing which started about 8.30pm, the Defendant had some kind of fit. He ended up jumping the dock, sending files flying and Counsel (including me) diving to the side. The general alarm went off, the court was cleared, all hell broke loose.

The custody staff called the only doctor on duty, a standard police doctor. He arrived at 10pm, said, “he needs a psychiatrist, not a GP” and a psychiatrist was called for. There wasn’t one available. After much phoning around, one said he could arrive by 3am, which was going to be too late for the cells, as the court was closing at 2am.

The Defendant was extremely distressed. The custody staff (who were a really nice lot, at Bow Street) were very worried about him. And nobody, nothing relevant was available or on-call.

So as well as all the other difficulties about “flexible” court hours, in my experience, they just don’t work. Unless there is also massive investment in getting all the usual, necessary services on call (a girl can dream, right?)

Personal Difficulties

It was an unpleasant experience. I was over-stretched, lacking time off, and having to get home at late-o-clock (sometimes I’d finished by 9pm. At least 4 times it was after midnight by the time I was going home). No expenses, including travel expenses, are paid for Magistrates’ Court hearings, so I had the choice of walking home free, dressed in a suit and carrying a work bag, or getting a cab, which I couldn’t really afford.

I was lucky – I lived within extended walking distance of Bow Street at the time, and my then-boyfriend walked over to meet me and escort me home. And, on one occasion, to keep me company in the many hours I was at court after my own lay client had such a horrific episode, which was appalling for him (and scared the living daylights out of me).

If I’d had children, or other caring responsibilities, hadn’t lived within walking distance, hadn’t had a boyfriend who was willing and able to support me, what was then difficult would have become impossible.

Now, for example, I couldn’t do it. Then-boyfriend, now Dearly Beloved, couldn’t drop everything and come and meet me, because he’d be at home looking after our sons while I was working.