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.
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.